The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 39: ASSASSINATION: Ivar Zeile, Director of Plus Gallery (Part Two)

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qi peng: On a lighter note, what television shows, sports, movies, music, books, artists, or other cultural artifacts would you like recommend to your fans? What music tracks do you enjoy playing during Plus Gallery hours and opening receptions? How does the music contribute to the overall mood of how the audience responds to the artwork?

Ivar Zeile: I have to be honest and say I hate TV, but I do watch Two and a Half Men quite obsessively.  Maybe its because its on at 6pm when I come home each day and makes me laugh.  It is a great show no doubt about it.  My wife and I are currently finishing season three of Arrested Development on DVD and have determined it to be the greatest TV show ever.  If I had cable I’d be watching South Park, but that’s about it.

I don’t like sports much, except for Tennis.  I’m a huge tennis fan and try to watch all of the major tournaments if I can.  I’m for Nadal but love Federer too, it’s such a joy to watch them battle and so hard to know that one of them must lose.  I will casually watch major sporting events, I’m certainly not beyond that, but in general I’d rather do just about anything else!

As for music, it’s another obsession and each year the gallery produces a “best-of” cd that we send to our clients and friends.  Here are my playlists for the last few years from that effort:


Health: Heaven   From “Health”

Crystal Castles: Air War  From “Crystal Castles”

Foals: Two Steps, Twice  From “Antidotes”

El Parro del Mar: Candy  From “Look! It’s el Perro del Mar!

Goldfrapp: Happiness   From “Seventh Tree”

The National: You’ve done it again, Virginia From “The Virginia Ep”

Fleet Foxes: Ragged Wood  From “Fleet Foxes”

Portishead: We Carry On  From “Third”

Deerhunter: Backspace Century  From “Microcastle”

Shocking Pinks: Jealousy  From “Shocking Pinks”

Hercules and Love Affair: Blind  From “Hercules and Love Affair”

Tapes and Tapes: Conquest  From “Walk it Off”

Wolf Parade: Soldier’s Grin  From “At Mount Zoomer”

Nick Cave: Albert Goes West  From “Dig!!! Lazarus Dig!!!”

British Sea Power: Atom  From “Do You Like Rock Music?”

Blood on the Wall: Rize  From “Liferz”

Les Savy Fav: Rage in the Plague Age From “Let’s Stay Friends”

Crystal Castles: Love and Caring  From “Crystal Castles”

Blood on the Wall: The X  From “Liferz”

CSS: Art Bitch   From “Cansei de Ser Sexy”


His Name is Alive: Come To Me   From Ximmer

Angels of Light: Sunflower’s Here To Stay  From We Are Him

Danielson: Did I Step on Your Trumpet From Ships

Menomena: The Pelican   From Friend and Foe

The Go! Team: Universal Speech  From Proof of Youth

The Brakes: Cease and Desist   From The Beautific Visions

Interpol: Mammoth    From Our Love To Admire

Caribou: Melody Day    From Andorra

Dntel: The Distance    From Dumb Luck

Ms John Soda: Outlined View  From Notes and the Like

The Knife: Behind The Bushes  From Deep Cuts

Under Byen: Palads    From Samme Stof Som Stof

Taken By Trees: Open Field   From Open Field

Jens Lekman: If I Could Cry (I would feel like this) From Night Falls over Kortedala

Richard Hawley: Tonight the Streets Are Ours From Lady’s Bridge

Peter Bjorn & John: The Chills  From Writers Block

M.I.A.: Paper Planes    From Kala

Lily Allen: Nan You’re A Window Shopper From Alright, Still

Danielson: Bloodbook on the Halfshell From Ships

Les Georges Leningrad: Sponsorships From Sur Les Traces De Black Eskimo

Birthday Party: The Friend Catcher  From Live 81-82


Akron/Family: Gone Beyond   From Meek Warrior

Campbell and Lanegan: Honey Child What Can I Do? From Ballad of the Broken Seas

Sondre Lerche: You Know So Well  From Faces Down

Baby Dayliner: At Least   From Critics Pass Away

Beirut: The Bunker    From Gulag Orkestar

The Decemberists: Sons and Daughters  From The Crane Wife

The National: Sugar Wife   From Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers

The Devastations: The Night I Couldn’t Stop Crying From Coal

Tapes and Tapes: 10 Gallon Ascots  From The Loon

Okkervill River: No Key, No Plan  From Black Sheep Boy Appendix

The Brakes: Head About Your Band  From Give Blood

Steve Malkmus: Pencil Rot   From Face the Truth

Sunset Rubdown: They Took a Vote and Said No From Shut Up I am Dreaming

Mogwai: Travel is Dangerous   From Mr. Beast

Barry Black: Rabid Dog   From Barry Black

The Knife: Neverland    From Deep Cuts

Hot Chip: Over and Over   From The Warning *

Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fancy   From Show Your Bones

Vitalic: My Friend Dario   From OK Cowboy

The Brakes: I Can’t Stand To Stand Beside You From Give Blood


The Wedding Present: Interstate 5  From Take Fountain

Wolf Parade: Modern World   From Apologies to the Queen Mary

The Decemberists: We Both Go Down Together From Picaresque

The Fiery Furnaces: Sing For Me or Tropical-Iceland From Self Titled EP

Out Hud: Song So Good They Named It Thrice From Let Us Never Speak of It Again

Ye Ye: Eurostar    From Two Brains for Feet

Subtle: F.K.O.     From New White

Cadence Weapon: God Bless My Brother From ESOPUS Issue #4 Audio Visuals

Goldfrapp: Strict Machine   From Black Cherry

The Chemical Brothers: Galvanize  From Push the Button

Sage Francis: Dance Monkey   From A Healthy Distrust

The Go! Team: The Power Is On  From Thunder, Lightning, Strike

Mink Lungs: Man Downstairs  From I’ll Take It

Architecture in Helsinki: It’s 5!   From In Case We Die

Interpol: Evil     From Antics

The National: Friend Of Mine  From Alligator

Bright Eyes: I Believe In Symmetry  From Digital Ash in a Digital Urn

Wolf Parade: Shine a Light   From Apologies to the Queen Mary

Brazilian Girls: Pussy    From Self titled album

I tend to play music all the time at the gallery, though I would say I’m not sure if it adds or takes away from the experience.  For me, life should always have a soundtrack and I don’t want any of my environments to be without it.

I used to be a voracious reader and also have many favorites in the fiction genre, including Mary GaitskillJamaica Kincaid,Diane SchoemperlainDave Eggers, etc……but lately I’ve slagged off from much of that type of reading and am mostly focusing on art-related material.  I am obsessed, though, with the Swiss author Robert Walser, anyone that discovers and can hunt down his oeuvre will be enriched forever.  Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon also had a heavy impact on me, it’s almost impossible to read but worthwhile for anyone up for the challenge.  A lot of the art-related books I’ve read recently are very interesting if you are in the market, and maybe outside of it, but I can’t really comment on them here, although I’ll say that anyone that has anything to do with the business should read “Talking Prices.” The New Yorker is a must-read weekly, as is The Onion, I can’t imagine life without either of those two publications.

qi peng: With the economic collapse of the Wall Street during the past year that probably caused collateral damage with the closure of many prominent Chelsea and Lower East Side galleries, is the art market in Denver insulated from the economic challenges that the New York and Los Angeles collectors are facing as they cope with tighter budgets? How do the regional collectors differ from the ones who are not from the area par se in terms of their collecting habits?

Ivar Zeile: Absolutely not, in fact I’m sure it’s impacted quite the same though its also hard for me to say right now precisely to what extent.  Since we’ve been in a temporary space I can’t comment on business as well as my competitors, but it seems like everyone is feeling the pinch.  The best thing about Denver is that it is one of the most attractive cities in the country and does not seem to be hit as hard as other areas.  Whether that will continue or not remains to be seen, but Denver really stands at a high-point in its history right now, I think it is a very attractive place for anyone to live or to visit, and in some ways that keeps the economy flowing a little better in these times, but I know the downturn is effecting everyone.  I do hear that the institutions are suffering somewhat, to what extent I don’t know, but everyone does seem to be tightening their belts and it is of course going to effect business this year and maybe in the long run.  It’s hard to reconcile the concept of high-end art as a commodity during these times, I think the real collectors don’t see any cause to change their habits, though there’s a big difference between a serious collector and someone who is just starting out or passively interested in art.  Unfortunately Denver’s collectors are hard to pinpoint, they all have different habits and I don’t always have a good read on them, even during terrific economic times!  We are hoping that the new gallery will be more attractive to a higher-level of collector, and only time will tell if that’s true or not. If it’s not, there’s very little reason to continue here in Denver I suppose.

qi peng: How does Plus Gallery interact in special curatorial projects with other cultural, particularly museum, venues that deal with cutting-edge contemporary artwork? Examples include MCA Denver, Gallery of Contemporary Art, and The Lab at Belmar. What are some future plans for extending Plus Gallery’s involvement within the regional and international cultures?

Ivar Zeile: We don’t really have a plan per-se in this arena, only that as one of the top galleries in Denver we at least have a reputation for carrying good artwork and representing some of the most prestigious regional artists.  For me it’s all about relationship building, sometimes its hard to break through even if you have a good relationship established but you keep working on it and hope that the efforts pay off.  Fortunately we do seem to have a number of artists who are well positioned for the institutional level and select curatorial projects, both at the highest and lowest levels.  This year should be significant for us as John McEnroe will be featured in one of the grandest exhibitions ever held at the Denver Art Museum, alongside major international talents in a show called “Embrace,” which is scheduled to start in the late fall.  Riva Sweetrocket, one of our artists who is currently on fire, has a major solo show at the Buell Theater, a downtown venue that’s not exactly easy to fill and a focal point of the DCPA.  The show will be in conjunction with the City of Denver and should be a tremendous hit, her new works are simply outstanding and will captivate the visitors in that space.  We’ve not had much success with the  MCA Denver since they moved to their new space, I’m not sure why but hopefully there will be some crossover there for us with Adam Lerner, my relationship with him is pretty good and he’s familiar with our program.  My biggest goal is to try and break outside of the Denver arena, we’ve been in the spotlight here so much in the last 5 years or so and it really does seem like the challenge should be how to get our artists into major collections or exhibitions outside of the state.  Unfortunately that’s not a simple thing to do, in fact its about the hardest unless you have undeniably good resources or connections, and unfortunately we are a bit lacking in that arena currently!  But I do feel that we are in step with a ten year initial vision, probably already surpassing it in some ways.  But challenge is what keeps the gallery going and hopefully always will.

qi peng: How is the gallery involved within the new media series to promote challenging works in video or internet art? What is the underlying strategy to broaden the appeal of these formidable genres to the general public who are overloaded with the stereotypical or hackneyed imagery from the commonplace media outlets?

Ivar Zeile: Well, we can’t be too proactive with new media, it’s essentially a field that I’m very interested in but has little commercial potential with a gallery such as ours.  What that means is that it is difficult to give it a primary focus, ie….mount a major exhibition or do solo shows of any duration.  But I’ve tried to be up on it in other various ways, mostly through collaborating with community partners and looking at ideas on a case-by-case basis.  A few weeks ago we hosted a new-media showcase that was simply outstanding, it didn’t take too much effort and allowed exposure for a whole group of artists that are otherwise remote.  I do expect to host more opportunities such as this in the new space, and most likely they would be single evening showcases that attract a big crowd for one night, though I’m open to more than that.  We have designed the new gallery to have a permanent setup for video installation and hope that we can keep a semi-active program in that regard, though it might take a little time to develop.  The second floor of the gallery will also probably accommodate some new media works, but as with all of our art, it has to be of a super high quality for us to want to work with it, and that’s not always easy to find in this region.

For the last couple of years we’ve had a solid partnership with a group called Object + Thought, and really they’ve taken the charge to advance the cause of new media works.  Our collaborations with them are great, mostly because there doesn’t have to be a financial consideration in exhibiting works or providing a showcase for select artists.  O+T is a design collective and they are willing and eager to devote space to such concerns, and on our end we are happy to help promote and keep the program focused.  If we can make it more internal to the gallery over time, that would be great, but for now we are doing about as much as we can in this region.

qi peng: Considering that Plus Gallery is located within an emerging art market, are there certain curatorial risks that you can take that galleries in larger cities cannot afford to take as they have to focus on paying much higher bills? What are some off-site projects that you have been or will be involved in?

Ivar Zeile: We took a lot of curatorial risks in our early years, and I would say that almost everything we do is risky to a certain extent, but I don’t think that has as much to do with our market in relation to others.  Our bills may not be as high as a NY galleries might be, but they are high enough for our market and the choice between surviving and simple being on the cutting edge is a vast one.  When I look at other galleries that don’t really seem to be taking a challenging route, I can’t really fault them (and some of them are very,very good at what they do), but for me there is no reason to be in this business unless the artwork and artists inspire you.  If it’s too much of a commodity, it is just boring. The tough challenge is finding work that can sell in this market but still excites you as a curator.  I do have to pass on a lot of artwork that I like, but I’m still drawn to work that I think has a shot at finding the right appeal and will be engaging for me to try and position to the community.  Much of my favorite work does not sell much at all, even though the artist’s reputations are of the highest level.  That is very frustrating but part of keeping our reputation at the top.

I’m not so sure there are any off-site projects that we are looking at currently, I’m on so many arts-related boards here in Denver that it seems that half my life is outside the gallery.  But this year we hope to focus primarily on the new space.  I already mentioned the DAM Embrace show as well as the Sweetrocket show at the Buell.  Other than that, we are going to be hosting a group show at Ironton [Studios] Gallery (one of the top co-ops in Denver) with Robin Schaefer, who has a studio there and is given the space once every two years as a result.  This will be an exciting exhibition as we are asking select artists to create a work at a scale that is truly pushing their comfort zone.  I’m sure there will be a few other things as well, but that’s about it for now.  I’ve been asked to jury three exhibitions in the coming two months, including the Wyoming Governors Yearly art exhibition… intern is currently viewing the submissions and I must say its not exactly the kind of artwork that I’m used to!

qi peng: Who are the upcoming hot artists that you see with a bright future? Also, what do you think about juried publications such as New American Paintings where one of your artists, Evan Colbert, was featured last year? How does being shown in a widespread manner boost the artist’s esteem while giving them validation critically? What are some memorable studio visits?

Ivar Zeile: Well, I like to think that all of my artists are in that category, but to be honest there are only a few that I would see really primed to break out in a major way right now.  Jenny Morgan for sure, she is so talented it’s almost crazy, and now that she’s in NYC more doors should open for her.  She’s originally from SLC but I don’t think has ever shown there…..someday she’ll be a major artist and could end up being one of the most renowned ever from there.  Riva Sweetrocket has such huge, natural talent too and is making great progress, I see a major career for her in the next ten years, particularly considering that her medium is pastel. I don’t know if there is an artist in the world that is capable of doing what she can with that medium, its truly fascinating to be involved with her career and she’s a really great person too.  I’d like to think that this year will see breakthroughs for some emerging artists such as Jonathan Saiz and Frank Martinez, both of them seem primed and ready for it.  We recently discovered R. Justin Stewart, who is an installation artist and someone I think is going to be huge someday.  His work is fascinating and he’s really getting some exciting opportunities now that he’s in NYC.  We are going to feature him with an installation in the new space in July, it could be one of the top exhibitions of the year.  Colin Livingston is also doing amazing new work that we’ll feature in December, he’s always one of my favorites though a hard sell here or maybe anywhere.  Every time I visit his studio I’m blown away by the scope of his vision and the fact that he’s just always going after his ideas in such a quiet but immense way.  Bruce Price too is a favorite of mine, visiting his studio is always exciting as he paints quite prolifically.

Oddly enough, I’ve seen very little value from New American Paintings, which is unfortunate.  We’ve had so, so many artists published there over the last five years and it’s only really impacted one or two of the artists.  Generally what you hear about NAP is that no-one but curators follow it, so it’s a good way for an artist to get picked up by a gallery but tends to do little for an artists sales.  For sure it boosts the artists esteem and its really a great gift to give to existing clients, that’s really the best value of NAP or any national publication.

qi peng: Is there anything cool or wonderful that you are wanting to share with readers here or fans of Plus Gallery? What things can we anticipate for what is going to be a fun year at the gallery?

Ivar Zeile: Well, I’ve been excited about the new technology in book publishing, I just sent off a 300 page file to Blurb to produce a comprehensive gallery catalog.  Blurb has amazing quality and their turnaround time is simply unprecedented.  They will revolutionize publishing and will have a particular strong impact for the arts.  In fact I may use some of this interview in our gallery book in the next iteration!  Otherwise, I hope that there will be a lot of fun to be had this year at the gallery, its hard to say as right now it is such hard work trying to stay on top of everything with the new space. I’ll leave you with our schedule for the year, people can make of it want they want by cross referencing our website at Hopefully it will be as exciting as I think it should be.

March 13 – April 18: Karen McClanahan | New paintings + new works by Bill Amundson, Wes Magyar, Frank T. Martinez, Susan Meyer, Jenny Morgan, Bruce Price, Hunt Rettig, Jonathan Saiz and Mike Whiting on the second floor.

April 24 – May 29: Jean Arnold | New paintings.

June 5 – July 18: Introduction to Bill Amundson, Douglas Walker and Melissa Furness.

July 24 – August 28: R. Justin Stewart | Installation.

September 11 – October 16: TBD.

October 23 – November 28: Jenny Morgan | New paintings + select works by “Embrace” artists from the DAM.

December 4 – January 15: Colin Livingston | New product.

Plus Gallery will also be hosting an exhibition of large-scale works featuring Bill Amundson, Patti Hallock, Wes Magyar, Frank T. Martinez, Jonathan Saiz and Robin Schaefer at Ironton Gallery in September.

The City of Denver joins Plus Gallery in hosting a major exhibition of new works by Riva Sweetrocket at the Buell Theater in November.

John McEnroe will be featured in the international contemporary exhibition “Embrace” at the Denver Art Museum in November, curated by Christoph Heinrich.

Other special programs will be announced throughout the year.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 2:20 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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