The curators of New York's Museum of Modern Art recently released announced their plans to feature a new exhibit focused on video gaming.
The exhibit, a feature of the museum's design collection, will explore interactive design within virtual worlds like [i]EVE Online[/i], [i]Dwarf Fortress[/i], and classic titles like [i]Pac-Man[/i].
We spoke with Kate Carmody, a curatorial assistant for MoMA's design collection about what criteria they used for their exhibition and whether gaming is or isn't art.
See also: - Top 5 Video Games as Art
What is your role at the Museum of Modern Art? I'm a curatorial assistant, so I work very closely with Paula Antonelli who is a senior curator. I also work with a lot of the other curators in my department putting together exhibitions, acquisition research, and anything collection and exhibition related.
Where did the idea for a video game exhibition come from? Paula Antonelli convened a summit in 2006 to discuss our graphic design collection and status of contemporary design processes and products. A good example to look at would be our poster collection. Graphic design has always focused on posters and that's more or less what we've been collecting since the dawn of our department.
At the summit she gathered scholars, designers, and historians to identify new frontiers for us to explore. Studying the typography of movie posters and digital text lead us to different types of interactive design. Packaging these titles fills into film design far beyond posters and other interactive art lead her to video games. For our interactive design collection we have little snippets here and there, but we have no real collecting strategy per se. Video games seemed like a good way to get across what we want people to notice about interaction design.
The acquisitions process started a couple years ago. We had expanded the interaction design collection to include typography, and thinking about those problems and issues seemed to allow us to make the jump into thinking about video games as part of the interaction design agenda. We've been working on this for a couple years: Deciding what games and criteria until we're now finally able to start asking companies and making agreements. It's been a long arc, and we finally announced a couple of days ago!
How do you think games differ from other art forms? Well, it's interesting because we get this question a lot. While we are an art museum and we're big in the visual representation and aesthetics of pieces we also feature a collection of design. We're a design department and we take in aesthetics as well as other criteria and the design creates some of the context for what we're collecting. The criteria [for video games] is the aesthetics, behavior, and the time/space that you play the game in and the that occurs within the game as well as the time you spend playing. So all of those factors are part of the larger idea of what we want to earmark for collecting.
What was the selection process for the exhibition? We started with this group of game designers that we know. We worked with the editors of this magazine called Killscreen as well as people in the critical field, historians, and designers to help form a moving list of the criteria we outlined. Like you saw in the blog post, we outlined 40 games we eventually wanted to have in the exhibit but our acquisition process means we're going to have to start one-by-one. We couldn't do 40 all at once, so we're doing it kind of chunk by chunk and you can see reflected in the ones we have already acquired that we haven't in touch with Atari or Nintendo yet. We want to talk to them, but some of this first batch was a little easier.
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What do you say to people like Roger Ebert who claim that games aren't art? Our thing isn't whether they're art or not, but for us they're design. I read his post a long time ago, and that's exactly why we would say [video games] are art. You have to have a function and you have to have it be interactive. All of these functions would make it interactive. You think about a chair in our collection, and it ceases to be functional the second you put it in a museum. You haveve to describe when it's in our collection that not only does it look nice but it's comfortable to sit on. You have to explain and interpret why things go in our museum and you can try blanket definitions of art, but at the end of the day they're personal expression. They're not personal expression you have to interpret it on your own. I always shy away from the "Why is this art?" and "Why isn't this art?" I don't know. I do know what design is, though, and I would call this design because you're producing things for particular outcome. Having people play with them or having people play with them in a certain way makes interesting things come out of in a ways in ways that the designer may or may not have intended. All of these things bring forth a new kind of creativity that the player can contribute to it so I think that when you have a player or a user or another part of it that really emphasises how something can change.
There's plenty of designworks that are functional and there's plenty that are less functional. Maybe the function is to make something look nicer or run better, but I think that the idea of design is we have practitioners and people who consume design adamantly. The video game community is the most excited and vocal community we've dealt with and when a museum like MoMA recognizes their work they get really excited and there's a professional side of the audience that appreciates being recognized and understood by MoMA. Then there's another side of the coin where people are trying to find Matisse and Van Gogh and then we catch 'em with our design exhibits. We have the pens, we have the iPad, and we have all these other things within the design collection and people see Pac Man and say "Hey! I remember that!" You can totally look at a painting and understand the artists experience but I think that design is much more personal. You have your personal experience with a product as well as what a designer was intending when they created it.
MoMA collection of 14 video games, the seedbed for an initial wish list of about 40, will be installed in the Museum's Philip Johnson Galleries in March 2013. For more information, check out MoMA's website.