How do we define art? The exhibition "The Art of Video Games," which opened at the Boca Raton Museum of Art on October 24, makes the argument that video games, from Pac-Man to Space Invaders, Halo to Super Mario, are art.
The Boca Raton Museum of Art is the first museum to host this exhibit, following a widely successful run at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition, which premiered in March, covers the 40-year evolution of video games, from the advent of the art form in the 1970s through the rise of home-gaming systems, ending at the omnipresent video game culture of today.
Last month, PBI.com spoke with Marisa Pascucci, curator of twentieth century and contemporary art at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, about the new exhibit, how it came to Boca Raton and the innate challenges in packaging video games as art.
PBI.COM: How did "The Art of Video Games" make its way to the museum? It seems like an odd fit for Boca.
PASCUCCI: It does when you first think about it. It's something our director is trying to change a little bit in terms of the types of exhibitions the museum has done in the past. It's a little more, to quote him, "playful, smart and inventive."
What type of audience do you think it will attract?
Well, we hope to attract our usual museum audience, our members, but then we hope to reach out to families who don't usually think about coming to the museum. And, obviously, video gamers. We hope to reach the 50-year-old people who've been playing video games since they were 10 and then the 18-year-olds who've been playing since they were 8. So we hope to attract a cross section.
What aspects of this exhibit are interactive?
There are five playable games that range the history of video games. There's everything from Pac-Man from the 1980s up until Flower from 2009. ... You can play anywhere from three to eight minutes with each game. So it's not like you're stuck behind one person trying to clear all of Pac-Man or anything like that.
How is the art aspect of video games illustrated in this exhibit?
There's another section of 20 interactive kiosks called genre kiosks, as the Smithsonian has described them. And each of these kiosks has three screens that have original drawings, screenshots and a monitor that shows you a demonstration of the game. This is the section that really stresses the complete cross history. So, this goes from 1977 and an Atari game up until Playstation 3 that's just a couple of years old.
And these kiosks show the artistic evolution of video games?
Yes. If you look at the top screen or top image, you can see how it has progressed. So the first one is from the 1970s, so it's very basic imagery. And then it goes up until contemporary games, and the graphics are amazing.
How long does the exhibit take to walk through?
You could spend 20 minutes or you could spend three hours. It depends on whether you want to sit and listen to the interviews, watch the development of graphics, listen to the kiosks and actually play some of the games.
This is a pretty innovative exhibition. Has the Boca MOA ever done anything like this before?
No, it's definitely completely new for us. It's kind of similar to this summer's miniature golf show. We had 11 miniature golf holes designed by 11 contemporary artists. So they're playable golf holes but then also a piece of contemporary art. It's just a different way of presenting art to be interactive, to reach new audiences and still, obviously, not ignore our present audiences.
Do you think there's a challenge in getting museum patrons to view video games as art?
I think it's going to be a challenge for a lot of people, yes. But it's a challenge that we're definitely up to. And graphics, video game graphics, there's just no doubt, it is art. It's creating, it's drawing, so there are some sketchbooks and there are some photographs of digital images and several sketchbooks just to show how it goes from one to the other. It's just a different type of storytelling.