Exhibitions: The Art of Video Games / American Art
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The Art of Video Games

March 16, 2012 – September 30, 2012

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About the Exhibition

Video games are a prevalent and increasingly expressive medium within modern society. In the forty years since the introduction of the first home video game, the field has attracted exceptional artistic talent. An amalgam of traditional art forms—painting, writing, sculpture, music, storytelling, cinematography—video games offer artists a previously unprecedented method of communicating with and engaging audiences.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. Eighty games, selected with the help of the public, demonstrate the evolution of the medium. The games are presented through still images and video footage. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with twenty developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition.

Developments in hardware and software, as well as the advent of the internet, have given artists an ever widening palette of tools with which to create, while common game-play elements can be seen throughout. Five featured games, one from each era, show how players interact with diverse virtual worlds, highlighting innovative techniques that set the standard for many subsequent games. The playable games are Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum invited the public to help select the video games to be included in the exhibition. The 240 games on the ballot were selected by Chris Melissinos, who worked with the museum and an advisory group consisting of game developers, designers, industry pioneers, and journalists. The games were selected based on a variety of criteria, including visual effects, creative use of new technologies, and how the game fit into the narrative of the exhibition. Voting took place between February 14 and April 17, 2011. More than 3.7 million votes were cast by 119,000 people in 175 countries! See which games were voted into the exhibition, or check out the original voting website.

GameFest—three days of insightful talks by video game pioneers, panel discussions with designers and artists, movie screenings, costume photo-ops, and hands-on play—took place from March 16–18, 2012. Archived webcasts are available online.

Public Programs
March 16–18, 2012, GameFest
April 29, 2012, Gamer Symphony Orchestra
May 4, 2012, Symposium—Video Games: Beyond Play, Part 1 and Part 2
May 5, 2012, 21st Century Consort, Music of Games; ticket purchase required
June 26, 2012, The Art of Video Games Curator’s Quest
June 27, 2012, The Gamer and the Video Game
July 26, 2012, Building The Art of Video Games
August 7, 2012, The Art of Video Games Curator’s Quest
August 18, 2012, Playing Pong in 2100: How to Preserve Old Video Games
August 21, 2012, Building The Art of Video Games
September 6, 2012, Pixels and Painting with Kristoffer Zetterstrand
September 8, 2012, GameFest 2.0
September 18, 2012, From Botticelli’s Venus to Super Mario: The Evolution of Art History and Future of Video Games

Video Games Live at Strathmore—The Art of Video Games curator, Chris Melissinos, will be a special guest at Video Games Live performances, Saturday, April 7 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Book— The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect
A companion book, The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, accompanies the exhibition. It is written by Chris Melissinos, with a foreword by Elizabeth Broun, director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and an introduction by Mike Mika, head of development for Other Ocean Interactive and a prominent advocate for the preservation of videogame history. It also includes more than 100 composite images of games created by Patrick O’Rourke. The book, published by Welcome Books in cooperation with the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is available in the museum store, online, and at bookstores nationwide (hardcover, $40).

National Tour
The Art of Video Games will travel to 10 cities in the United States following its presentation in Washington, D.C.

Boca Raton Museum of Art in Boca Raton, Florida (October 24, 2012–January 13, 2013)

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, 2015)

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 at Florida International University in Miami, Florida (October 9, 2015–January 25, 2016)

Stay Connected
Join the conversation about the exhibition on Twitter by using #taovg and following @americanart. Add your video game-inspired pics to our Flickr group “Celebrating The Art of Video Games! And check out our answers to some of these Frequently Asked Questions.

Go Behind-the-Scenes
If you are interested in receiving monthly updates and special behind-the-scenes offers throughout the run of the exhibition, please sign-up.

Extra Credit!
More than 800 fans become a part of this historic exhibition by donating $10 or more to add their name to the credits, which were presented both in the exhibition galleries and on our website. Check out a mini-game about this campaign, created by students at the Washington County Technical High School.

Go behind-the-scenes with the museum's blog, Eye Level
The Art of Video Games Departs!, September 25, 2012
The Art of Video Games: Interview Extras, June 28, 2012
Comment Sketches from The Art of Video Games, May 17, 2012
The Art of Video Games: The Music, April 24, 2012
The Art of Video Games Triumph!, March 27, 2012
GameFest: A Pac-Man Family Portrait, March 17, 2012
GameFest: The Video Game Celebrities , March 17, 2012
GameFest: The Music, March 17, 2012
GameFest: Don't Forget the Exhibition!, March 17, 2012
GameFest: Chun-Li, March 17, 2012
GameFest: Metal Gear Solid Fans, March 17, 2012
GameFest: A Conversation with Hideo Kojima, March 17, 2012
Let the GameFest Begin!, March 17, 2012
Meet The Art of Video Games Curator, March 15, 2012
Coming Attractions: The Trailer for The Art of Video Games, March 14, 2012
Picture This: Installing the Kiosks for The Art of Video Games, February 23, 2012
The Making of The Art of Video Games, February 3, 2012
The Art of Video Games: Announcing GameFest, January 26, 2012
The People Behind the Video Games: Tommy Tallarico, December 20, 2011
The People Behind the Video Games: David Cage, October 27, 2011
The Art of Video Games: A Sneak Peek, October 20, 2011
The Art of Video Games: Five Questions for Chris Melissinos, August 18, 2011
The People Behind the Video Games: thatgamecompany, July 12, 2011
The Art of Video Games: The Votes are In!, May 5, 2011
5 Questions with Chris Melissinos, March 29, 2011
The Art of Video Games: Vote Now!, February 19, 2011
5 Questions with Chris Melissinos, March 29, 2011
The Art of Video Games: Vote Now!, February 19, 2011

In the News
The Financial Times, Aug. 17, "The art of play" by Raphael Abraham
Kids.gov, Aug. 16, The Art of Video Games
CBS This Morning, May 29, 2012, “Video game orchestra strikes nostalgic chord” by Whit Johnson
The Electric Playground, May 21-22, 2012, two part interview with Chris Melissinos by Jason MacIsaac, Part I and “Video Games Art Art. Case Closed
NPR, Weekend Edition, April 29, 2012, “Blasts From The Past: The Art Of Video Games” by David Greene
The Verge, April 26, 2012, “'The Art of Video Games' at the Smithsonian: still in beta ” by T.C. Sottek
Smithsonian, April 12, 2012, Around the Mall, “Video Games Are More Than Just a Feast for the Eyes” by Megan Gambino
PBS NewsHour, April 4, 2012, “'The Art of Video Games' at the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Tom LeGro and Crispin Lopez III
CNN, April 4, 2012 “Smithsonian celebrates 'Art of Video Games'” by Larry Frum
Wired, March 30, 2012, “Videogames Politely Invade Smithsonian Art Museum” by Chris Kohler
Eurogamer, March 29, 2012, “Has the Art World Finally Fallen for Video Games?” by Fred Dutton
The Penny Arcade Report, March 23, 2012, “The Art of Video Game’s curator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum explores his favorite images” by Ben Kuchera
Washington City Paper, March 23, 2012, “The Art of Video Games At the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by John Anderson
Destructoid, March 23, 2012, “Smithsonian's 'Art of Video Games' exhibit examined” by Jonathan Chang
Voice of America, March 23, 2012 “Exhibit Explores Artistic Side of Video Games” by Susan Logue
Kotaku, March 19, 2012, “I Played Myst at the Museum: Visiting The Art of Video Games” by Kate Cox
The Atlantic, March 19, 2012, “How Video Games Ended Up in the Smithsonian” by Daniel Snyder
The Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2012, “Smithsonian scores with ‘Art of Video Games’ exhibit by Liesl Bradner
CBS Sunday Morning, March 18, 2012, “The art of video games” with Rita Braver
The Washington Post, March 18, 2012, “Critic’s Review: ‘The Art of Video Games’ at the Smithsonian American Art Museum” by Philip Kennicott
The New York Times, March 16, 2012, “An Exhibition in Easy Mode” by Seth Schiesel
BBC News, March 15, 2012, “Video game art gets the gallery treatment” by Jane O’Brien
USA Today, March 13, 2012, “Are video games art? Draw your own conclusions” by Mike Snider
Salon, March 10, 2012, Five-Minute Museum, “Video games as multi-player art project” by Emma Mustich
Metro Connection, WAMU 88.5, March 9, 2012, “Jumping Inside The Art of Video Games” with Rebecca Sheir
Smithsonian, March 2012, “The Art of Video Games” by Abigail Tucker
Smithsonian, March 2012, “The Art of Video Games”—Interview with Chris Melissinos

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. Promotional support is provided by the Entertainment Consumers Association. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.

Co-host an Event at the Renwick