Open World: Video Games and Contemporary Art at the Akron Art Museum (Akron, Ohio)

According to a 2018 Entertainment Software Association survey, more than 166 million Americans, including myself, play video games. Visual artists are gamers too, yet video games are rarely examined as a major influence on contemporary art. From now until February 2, 2020, guests can see this exciting combination of gaming and art at the Akron Art Museum's Open World: Video Games and Contemporary Art exhibition.


What can you expect to see?

The artworks in Open World reference a broad cross-section of games, ranging from early text adventure and arcade games to modern massively multi-player online roleplaying games and first-person shooters. Participating artists are influenced by some of the most beloved video game franchises including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, The Sims and Final Fantasy.


The exhibition’s title refers to open-world video games, which allow a player to roam through a virtual world, freely selecting their objectives. The title also draws attention to the rich opportunities video games offer for creative expression. Through games, artists build immersive, alternate worlds. They use digital games to create meaning through imagery, music, sound effects, animation and narrative. The exhibition showcases everything from paintings to screenshots, videos to moving paintings, a playable video game to hand crafted pieces.

Rubik's Cube Wipeout (2014) by the artist Invader
Rubik's Cube Wipeout (2014) by Invader

Be ready to learn!

I ended up seeing an entirely different perspective of the world of gaming, which was really interesting to me since I've been a gamer my entire life. These artists were using video games as a means to encourage empathy in a way I never thought about before.


One example that really spoke to me was Angela Washko's World of Warcraft piece "Nature" from the series The Council on Gender Sensitivity and Behavioral Awareness in World of Warcraft (2013). This portion of the exhibition includes a video projected on to a large wall with Washko playing World of Warcraft and chatting in-game to other people about women playing video games. The overall reaction was that video games were a "guy thing" which was something I came across a lot in my early years in online gaming. Even today when being randomly grouped up with people on the internet for a particular game, the immediate reaction is for the group to assume everyone is male. This piece made me realize I'm not alone in feeling discredited as a woman gamer.


Nature by Angela Washko (2013)
Nature by Angela Washko (2013)

Another example I liked was some yarn work by Nathan Vincent. By crocheting gaming items, he combined two things that are generally assumed to be gender-specific hobbies (crocheting for females and video games for males).

Playing with Fire and Joystick by Nathan Vincent (2011)
Playing with Fire and Joystick by Nathan Vincent (2011)

I don't want to ruin all of the surprises in Open World in this blog because it's really neat to see in person. I'll leave you with this. There's an artist (Butt Johnson) who has created some gorgeous Super Mario Bros. and Nintendo pieces with just a ballpoint pen. The detail is astounding.


Piranha plant closeup from Mario, Patron Saint of Brooklyn by Butt Johnson (2003)
Piranha plant ballpoint pen artwork closeup from Mario, Patron Saint of Brooklyn by Butt Johnson (2003)

Participating Artists:

Ueli Alder (Hemberg, Switzerland), Cory Arcangel (New York), Alan Butler (Dublin), JooYoung Choi (Houston), Joseph DeLappe (Dundee, Scotland), Krista Hoefle (South Bend, IN), Invader (Paris), Butt Johnson (New York), Angelo Ray Martínez (South Bend, IN), Michael Menchaca (San Antonio), Feng Mengbo (Beijing), Joan Pamboukes (New York), Oliver Payne (Los Angeles), Tim Portlock (St. Louis), Tabor Robak (New York), Rachel Rossin (New York), Jacolby Satterwhite (New York), Skawennati (Montreal), Suzanne Treister (London), Nathan Vincent (Los Angeles), Bill Viola (Long Beach, CA) and USC Game Innovation Lab (Los Angeles), Angela Washko (Pittsburgh) and Mathew Zefeldt (Minneapolis)


Open World Arcade - December 7, 2019

Visit the Akron Art Museum on Saturday, December 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for Open World Arcade. The museum lobby will transform into an arcade, where you can try numerous video & table top games designed by cool independent game developers —they'll be here for you to meet & talk with. You can also play some of the classic video games that inspired the artists in Open World, thanks to Games Done Legit. Learn more about Open World Arcade on December 7 here.


Visiting the Akron Art Museum

One South High, Akron, Ohio 44308

Click here for information on the museum's hours and admission rates.


Akron Art Museum Open World
It's the first time I've seen video games showcased at an art museum!

Disclaimer: I was invited by the Akron Art Museum to attend a media preview for Open World: Contemporary Video Games and Art shortly before the exhibition opened to the public. All opinions are my own.


Thank you to the Akron Art Museum for providing exhibit details and information used in the beginning of this blog post.


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