Meow Wolf Denver preview: Navigating Ossuary, a winding network of trippy “catacombs”

Deep inside the Earth, a mazelike network of blue-marble catacombs subtly steer explorers from one room to the next, confusing and delighting them with colorful, womblike spaces that seem plucked from a dream.

That’s the official narrative, anyway, from immersive art-and-entertainment juggernaut Meow Wolf. The Santa Fe-based company on Sept. 17 will open its latest commercial-art installation, Convergence Station, joining other Meow Wolf tourist-magnets such as The House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, and Omega Mart in Las Vegas.

While the wide view of the new exhibition is still obscured, The Denver Post this week got a preview of Ossuary — one of four “anchor spaces” at Meow Wolf’s four-story, 90,000-square-foot building at Interstate 25 and West Colfax Avenue. The concept was a long time coming, having sprung from a company-wide session back in 2017 — not long after the opening of the Santa Fe exhibit.

“People really liked the idea of space that contrasts with the large, open environments of the other worlds,” said Sandra Wang, a creative director at Meow Wolf. A successful artist in her own right, she moved to Denver from Santa Fe last fall to work on Convergence Station. “A big part of the new experience is the feeling that you have no idea what’s going to be around the corner or behind that door, or how you got there.”

That fits with Meow Wolf’s general obsession with portals, alternate dimensions, multiverses and other sci-fi tropes. But whether you’re decoding the story behind it all — Meow Wolf officials swear there is one — or simply snapping selfies of each sculptural oddity and trippy tableau, it’s all designed to flow together.

“A lot of the Denver exhibit will feel this way, but Ossuary is especially like a rabbit warren,” Wang said. “In Santa Fe, when people try to describe how they get from place to place, it sounds like a dream sequence. … Ossuary resonates a lot with Santa Fe and its layout.”

The theme plays out in interconnected rooms created by different artists and fabrication teams (who the company declined to name), with no border between the spaces. With its textured walls and shifting colors, it recalls the color-changing xylophone mastodon room in the Santa Fe exhibit.

But it also one-ups that with settings that invoke shiny, futuristic libraries and train stations, or laboratories built by unhinged scientists. Books, computers and other interactive elements will help visitors along the way, said Erin Barnes, public relations manager at Meow Wolf Denver.

“It’s an important space in the Denver exhibit that helps tie everything together,” she said. “And maybe the goth-iest of them all?”

Within 24 hours of announcing Meow Wolf Denver’s name and opening date on Tuesday, the company told Fast Company that it had sold more than 35,000 tickets to Convergence Station. As of late Wednesday, ticket sales were nearing the 40,000 mark, Fast Company reported.

Meow Wolf’s push to finish the Denver anchor space, also referred to by staff as the Corinthian catacombs, is all-hands-on-deck at the moment, Wang said. In addition to designing and overseeing the exhibit from the beginning, she’s helping her crews make up for lost time, given that Meow Wolf Denver was originally supposed to open in 2020.

Zoom meetings and virtual checklists did little to replace the energy and collaboration of working on-site, she said. Reconvening in-person last fall, distanced and masked, reinjected life into the proceedings.

“Most of us do have an art background, but we’re not well-versed at all in making permanent public art,” Wang said. “So it was a huge learning curve for us, from the Santa Fe installation and on, and it was great to get back to work.”

Convergence Station required more than 300 artists and craftspeople to build overall, and Wang turned the Ossuary artists loose on the anchor space. They were given brief, general descriptions of the theme, but the message was, “We love your work. Build whatever you want.”

Hidden, playful moments include coin-op machines that activate different lights and sounds, but that also save your quarter and send it to a different part of the exhibit for later pick-up. Books in the “library” help fill in the overarching story, while the blue-marble motif of “memories embedded within the rock” helps tie it together.

Ossuary joins dozens of other projects laid out across “kaleidoscopic cathedrals … lush alien habitats, and dazzling and gritty cityscapes,” the company said. But Wang can’t wait to hear what visitors think of the cave-like rooms of Ossuary, in particular.

“It doesn’t actually feel like the actual floor it’s on,” Wang said when asked where Ossuary is located in the new building. “When people talk about going back in one direction or another, it doesn’t usually (correspond) to where they think they are. We don’t want to give too much away because I’d rather visitors figure it out for themselves.”

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