Reed Weimer talks new work, gallery drama and the birth of Navajo Street Art District
You've been working in Denver as an artist for a long time. Can you tell a little of your story?
I started off in the co-op scene -- which was no commissions, you just paid rent. But that added up, too; what if you never sold anything? You ended up paying your thirty dollars a month or whatever. That doesn't necessarily put you in contact with a buying public that aren't your friends and family.
"Engine," Reed Weimer.
So Chandler and I opened a gallery called Zip 37, and we tried to run it as what we called a "managed co-op." It was minimum commission and a lot of the business stuff getting taken care of because one of the experiences you get in a co-op -- or any sort of informal business group -- is that not everyone is going to share equally in the work. So, understanding that right from the beginning, we said, okay, we're going to do the work. We'll get the press releases out, buy the building, renovate it, those sorts of things.
We tried that for a while, but I think the reason it didn't work for us was that we were trying to be artists at the same time. We didn't have that much energy to really do a good job and make our own work. Running a gallery is hard work. So we turned it over to the artists, and it became another co-op. And the co-op model is proving to be good in Denver. I don't know about the rest of the country.
How did you become involved with Pirate Contemporary Art in the early 1980s, and what is your relationship to the gallery now?
It had started as a co-op, and I had joined it in the first year (1980), after what they called "the mutiny." There was a group of Metro students -- I think they had something called "The Denver Dada Club," also. They all joined together. They had rented some rooms above a Japanese restaurant at 16th and Market, and I met Phil (Bender) and his wife at the time, Jennifer Melton, at a party when I was down from college for the summer.
They said, "Hey! We've got this gallery and it's great and you should join it and it's twenty bucks a month and you can show your artwork." We went down to see the next opening, which was Jennifer's. At the time I was really into gloom and angst and Joy Division and the artwork in there (at Pirate) was so goofy and funny. I thought, man, I could do this. This is really a relief.
So I joined with a bunch of other guys. We didn't know about about the mutiny at the time -- that half of the people that had started the gallery had just quit because they were mad at the way things were going. But Pirate has been going ever since -- it's in its third location and the only guy there from the beginning is Phil. People go back from the old days, so maybe there's some original folks, but I'm not sure of the membership.
Along with your wife, fellow artist Chandler Romeo, you are the landlords of the buildings in the Navajo Street Arts District that house Pirate, EDGE Gallery, The Bug Theatre and Zip 37. Do you think or see things differently in the local art world when you're both a landlord and an artist?
We are really, really hands-off with business aspects of all the properties that we own. A few years ago, an artist had a sculpture in the window of Pirate. The people at the church (on the block) complained, they called me at my house, I had all the neighbors calling me, asking if it could just be turned around. I'm like, I'll find out.
Chandler Romeo and Reed Weimer.
Then I had the whole place in an uproar because it was like, "Oh, did you hear? The landlords are censoring the art now." It got ugly. They called my bluff, I backed down. It was bad. So now we don't have anything to do with anything that happens with the businesses in the buildings. We just manage the walls and roofs and plumbing and whatever.
Co-ops are the best tenants ever; they absorb all of the coming and going of members within their organization. We've had the same tenants in all of the buildings since the beginning. We said to EDGE, "Hey, if we buy the building directly across the street from Pirate, will you move into it?" They have been there ever since. It's very stable.
My brother, Alex Weimer, runs the Bug Theatre. He's my tenant, and when people find out he's my brother, it's like he's a celebrity. He's great.