Art News

Meow Wolf Co-Founder Matt King Unexpectedly Passes at 37

Matt King
Matt King Meow Wolf
Meow Wolf co-founder Matt King passed away unexpectedly on July 9. Just 37, he left a legacy of immersive arts installations that he created with a collective of punk, eccentric, creative friends starting more than a decade ago in Santa Fe.

"Santa Fe, New Mexico is, to me, the reason for Meow Wolf," King said in the documentary Meow Wolf: Origin Story. "You have this small town, about 70,000 people, over 300 galleries, the third-largest art market in the country."

However, the young collective saw that Santa Fe's successful art market was geared more toward "fine art," leaving a void of eccentricity. King, originally from Arlington, Texas, and fellow Meow Wolf founders Quinn Tincher, Sean Di Ianni, Corvas Brinkerhoff, Emily Montoya, Caity Kennedy, Benji Geary and Vince Kadlubek —  "Santa Fe's orphans of neglect," as Tincher describes them in the documentary — lived in a place they called the Quadraplex, a group of four houses where they would make art and offer DIY concerts. Local police thought they were members of a cult, according to the film.

In 2008, they decided to rent a warehouse where they could install art and put on performances. "I will admit, at the beginning, when the name 'Meow Wolf' came up, I was like, 'No way, that's such a dumb name,'" King told the filmmaker. Even so, the vote was unanimous.

Tincher and King became fast friends while they painted the warehouse. "We didn't want rules, we didn't want hierarchy," King recalled. "And that presented a lot of problems." The group began to disperse, then suffered a major loss when key contributor David Loughridge passed away from pneumonia in 2014.

The remaining members of the collective began looking for a sustainable, permanent venue to ensure his legacy. Up popped Game of Thrones author and Santa Fe native George R.R. Martin, who invested $2.5 million to help the group establish The House of Eternal Return, Meow Wolf's Santa Fe flagship, in an old bowling alley in 2016.

Two years later, Meow Wolf announced new projects in Denver and Las Vegas, and even as the collective morphed into a multimillion-dollar entertainment company, King kept creating. He was involved with about 34 Meow Wolf projects through the years, serving as a lead artist for Omega Mart, the Meow Wolf installation in Las Vegas, and Denver's Convergence Station. He designed some of the most popular installations in the Mile High location, including "Eemia," the ice kingdom centered around a psychedelic cathedral, and "Mechs Robot"; he also took the lead on the "Ossuary Library," where visitors can delve into the installation's lore.
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Matt King designed the "Cathedral," part of the "Eemia" installation that he also designed.
Jess Bernstein
"Matt contained a miraculous level of brilliance, as a person and an artist," Meow Wolf says in a statement about his death. "His spirit drove Meow Wolf toward ambitious goals at every phase of our evolution. He cared deeply for the people around him, with love, optimism and generosity, and lived his life with unbound passion. Matt was truly a pioneer of immersive art and had a joy for creation that was electric and expansive. He was present at the very first Meow Wolf meeting in 2008, and along with Quinn Tincher, created Meow Wolf’s first immersive art show before anyone even knew what immersive art was. Matt said that Meow Wolf was part of his life’s purpose, all in the service of creating a better world."

“We will honor Matt’s spirit by carrying his brilliance forward in our work and in our everyday lives, building upon the monumental legacy that he leaves behind,” adds Jose Tolosa, CEO of Meow Wolf. “Thousands have been deeply touched by the artistic genius of his work, and nothing speaks to Matt’s influence more than the Meow Wolf community who is coming together in his honor.”

Convergence Station will remain open, though other Meow Wolf facilities will take a break. "The offices and artist fabrication facilities are open for people to gather and create as a space for processing, but the company is taking a collective pause on work this week," says public relations manager Erin Barnes. "We have resources to help our employees grieve, such as counselors on site and our existing employee assistance program to help them access the counseling resources they might need."

You can view all of Matt King's Meow Wolf installations here.
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Emily Ferguson is Westword's Culture Editor, covering Denver's flourishing arts and music scene. Before landing this position, she worked as an editor at local and national political publications and held some odd jobs suited to her odd personality, including selling grilled cheese sandwiches at music festivals and performing with fire. Emily also writes on the arts for the Wall Street Journal and is an oil painter in her free time.
Contact: Emily Ferguson