The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s groundbreaking exhibition, The Art of Video Games, travels to the Toledo Museum of Art this summer. An exploration of the first 40 years of the home console, from Atari VCS to PlayStation 3, the exhibition will be on view June 19–Sept. 28. Admission is free.
Enabling the viewer to interact with and control images is what sets video games apart from other art forms. “[We’re] invited by the artist to inject our own morality, our own worldview, our own experiences into the game as we play it. …no other medium affords the world this incredible opportunity,” according to Chris Melissinos, former chief evangelist and chief gaming officer for Sun Microsystems, the founder of PastPixels and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s guest curator of The Art of Video Games.
“In the same way as film, animation and performance, the video game is a compelling and influential form of narrative art that uses player participation to tell stories and engage audiences,” said TMA Director Brian Kennedy. “For those who grew up with these early video games, part of the attraction is nostalgic, but everyone can appreciate how artists have expressed their talents through this relatively new medium.”
Some of the most influential of those artists and designers across five eras of game development, from early pioneers to contemporary designers, are featured.
One of the first major exhibitions to explore the evolution of video games as an artistic medium, The Art of Video Games was one of the most successful exhibitions ever held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. TMA is the only site in Ohio where the touring exhibition will be shown.
The exhibition uses 80 of the best games for 20 gaming systems, selected by the public, to demonstrate the evolution of the art medium. Games are presented through still images and video footage. Multimedia elements convey the excitement and complexity of video games. Also featured are video interviews with developers and artists, historic game consoles and large prints of in-game screen shots.
In addition, the exhibition contains five games visitors may play to gain a feel for the medium’s interactivity with virtual worlds.
“By focusing on four game types—action, adventure, target and combat/strategy—The Art of Video Games reveals their emergence as a means of storytelling and audience engagement,” said Amy Gilman, TMA’s associate director and curator of contemporary and modern art. “Visitors can connect with the content of the show across generations, from those who remember classics such as Pac-Man and Super Mario Brothers, to more recent games like Flower and Super Mario Galaxy 2.”
The playable games—Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst and Flower—highlight the innovative techniques that set the standard for many subsequent games.
The Art of Video Games is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with generous support from the Entertainment Software Association Foundation, Sheila Duignan and Mike Wilkins, Shelby and Frederick Gans, Mark Lamia, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, Rose Family Foundation, Betty and Lloyd Schermer and Neil Young. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.
The exhibition showing in Ohio is made possible by Toledo Museum of Art members and by the Ohio Arts Council through a sustainability grant program funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Admission to TMA and the exhibition is free. Parking is $5 for nonmembers and free for members. For more information, visit toledomuseum.org.
The companion book to the exhibition, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, contains 100 composite images created by Patrick O’Rourke and drawn from the games themselves. The book, co-authored by curator Melissinos and published by Welcome Books in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is available in the Toledo Museum of Art Store (hardcover, $40) and online at TMAstore.org.