The Smithsonian’s “The Art of Video Games” exhibition (Image courtesy zeldainformer.com)
If there was ever any doubt that video games are one of our era’s strongest forms of art (I’m looking at you, Roger Ebert), the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s exhibition The Art of Video Games should have erased them. The mammoth exhibition featured over 80 games, with playable consoles, concept art, and video footage. Now, the show is touring across the United States in a victory lap through nine cities.
The Art of Video Games will spend the next four years on a cross-country road trip, landing in Seattle, Phoenix, Toledo, Norfolk, and Memphis, among other locations. The Smithsonian exhibition attracted a grand total of 686,406 people to the museum, so is it any wonder other institutions want to jump on board? The full tour schedule is below:
- EMP Museum in Seattle, Washington (February 16, 2013–May 13, 2013)
- Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona (June 16, 2013–September 29, 2013)
- Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York (October 25, 2013–January 19, 2014)
- Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York (February 15, 2014–May 18, 2014)
- Toledo Museum of Art in Toledo, Ohio (June 19, 2014–September 28, 2014)
- Flint Institute of Arts in Flint, Michigan (October 25, 2014–January 18)
- Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia (February 13, 2015–May 10, 2015)
- Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, Tennessee (June 6, 2015–September 13, 2015)
- The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum in Miami, Florida (October 9, 2015–January 25, 2016)
That the exhibition is going on such an extensive tour pays testament to the fact that video games are a powerful, vital creative medium that can be discussed critically as well as enjoyed by wide audiences. The populist angle of The Art of Video Games is part of what made it so popular; video games like Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, and Myst have become cultural touchstones just as works of contemporary art like Jeff Koons’s “Puppy” have.
The next step for video game exhibitions is to approach the subject more critically. The Smithsonian show did highlight some “art” video games like thatgamecompany’s Flower, but it mostly focused on mass-market hits produced by major game companies. The Australian Centre for the Moving Image opened a video game-oriented exhibition called Game Masters earlier this summer, focusing less on blockbusters and more on the history of video games and the medium’s early pioneers. The Paris Grand Palais’s Game Story similarly charted the aesthetic development of video games.
On my wish list for video games’ presence in art museums is an exhibition that presents a full range of playable art video games, not unlike Kill Screen‘s Museum of Modern Art arcade event last year. An entire exhibition could also be made of artists who explore video games as a medium for art-making, a group that includes Cory Arcangel and Nicholas O’Brien.