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Why ‘Game of Thrones’ scribe George R.R. Martin took a chance on Meow Wolf

Why ‘Game of Thrones’ scribe George R.R. Martin took a chance on Meow Wolf
George R.R. Martin at Meow Wolf (Meow Wolf)

What led famed “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin to invest millions of dollars in the Santa Fe-based art collective Meow Wolf was his intuition.

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“You have to go with your gut,” Martin says. “That's all you have. And my gut told me Meow Wolf was up to something very special here. The only question is: Would the world be ready for it? Thankfully, the world was more than ready for it.”

Meow Wolf began in 2008 as a grass-roots artist rebellion against the conformist and largely inaccessible art market in their hometown of Santa Fe, N.M. They created wild, immersive installations in a former barbershop. Then with the financial help of the New Mexico-based Martin in 2016, they converted a bowling alley into their permanent home, the Meow Wolf Art Complex.

An installation by the Meow Wolf team
An installation by the Meow Wolf team (Lindsey Kennedy)

Included with the space is their 20,000-square-foot installation, “House of Eternal Return,” a multiroom faux Victorian home that’s an art-filled wormhole to a new dimension, featuring whimsical sculptures along with passageways through washing machines and refrigerators. The project was created by more than 100 local artists, and the collective has grown into a larger entity with planned outposts opening soon in Denver and Las Vegas.

The collective’s story is told in the new documentary “Meow Wolf: Origin Story,” which opens in select theaters nationwide Nov. 29. The documentary is helmed by directors Morgan Capps and Jilann Spitzmiller, with Martin executive producing. It’s far from Martin’s first foray into producing; the three-time Emmy Award-winning “Game of Thrones” creator began his career as an author of sci-fi, fantasy and horror novels, which he parlayed into a writing job on the 1980s TV revival of “The Twilight Zone.” Later he became a writer-producer on the TV series “Beauty and the Beast.” Then in 2011, his book series “A Song of Ice and Fire” became a career-defining achievement, “Game of Thrones,” for which he is the co-executive producer. Up next for Martin is the forthcoming Syfy series “Nightflyers,” based on his 1980s novella.

Martin’s career has ebbed and flowed, but with Meow Wolf, he took a chance. “I’ve written many books over the years, and some of them have been big bestsellers and some of them have not,” he says. “I thought I was on pretty good footing, but there’s always a risk in any sort of creative endeavor.”

The Times recently chatted with Martin about why he trusted Meow Wolf with his money and his own art collection, and how “Game of Thrones” has reached the White House.

Investing in Meow Wolf was a generous gesture, but while money can be a great facilitator, it can also have a corrosive effect on art.

There's a danger that you can lose your soul or you can lose the thing that inspired you to start. But Meow Wolf hasn’t done that. What’s it going to be 20 years from now? I don’t know. We’ll have to see. You can go online and you’ll read a lot of good press about Meow Wolf, but you will also come across certain sites or reviews that are basically, “Well, it’s OK. It’s fun, but it’s not art,” from people who have a very narrow view of what art is.

A washing machine portal in Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return"
A washing machine portal in Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return" (Lindsey Kennedy)

As a writer of what has traditionally been considered genre fiction, have you experienced a similar elitist attitude?

I've been writing science fiction/fantasy and horror my entire life. I remember when I was a teenager — or a young man reading it or writing my first stories — encountering this attitude from certain parts of the literary establishment: “Science fiction is OK, but don’t confuse it with literature.” I think Meow Wolf is like that in the world of art.

With cities like New York and Los Angeles becoming too expensive, do you think we’ll see more artists from secondary and tertiary markets emerging on the national stage?

We’ve reached a point now where there's no longer any bad neighborhoods in Manhattan, where a bunch of artists could come live and do it. Every part of Manhattan costs a small fortune. And I guess the same thing is happening in L.A. I know the same thing is happening in San Francisco, where the funky neighborhoods, where the hippies and artists could find cheap studio space and cheap lofts, are all gone. It’s happening all over the world. There're no cheap places in Paris anymore, like Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald once rented. There’s no cheap places in London. So where's a young artist starting out supposed to go? And it may have to be in a place away from these major cities.

A surprise portal in the refrigerator at Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return"
A surprise portal in the refrigerator at Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return" (Kate Russell)

Are you a collector?

Most of the art that my wife and I collected is science fiction/fantasy art — cover paintings and artwork illustrating my own books and my own characters, but also work that I see at science-fiction conventions. I know some people on the coasts, they buy an artist they think is going to be big and is going to be worth more. I’m not into that. I don’t want to buy anything just for an investment. Follow your heart. Surround yourself with things you love, the things you find beautiful.

Some of the art for “Game of Thrones” was recently appropriated by the White House for a message regarding sanctions on China.

We’re living in very dangerous times. We’re living in times that I at least find scary, when people are walking into synagogues and screaming “All Jews must die” and shooting them down, when pipe bombs are being sent to a dozen leading Democrats. It makes me very anxious about these times we live in.

Inside the Meow Wolf art center in Santa Fe
Inside the Meow Wolf art center in Santa Fe (Lindsey Kennedy)
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