Tuesday, 8 December 2015




Everyone has a couple internet interests that never fail to captivate them; the kind of pass times that draw you in for hours at once. Mine happen to be cat videos, homes for sale in Detroit, and video game art. As one of the first creators of video game art to gain prominence, Cory Arcangel is one of the most recognized names in the field. His work makes users aware of their relationship with technology while employing a minimalist aesthetic.

Modified game cartridge from Super Mario Clouds (2002). Source.

For a while, I’ve been interested in how Arcangel has been collected. Other than video game mods, Arcangel has created sound art, prints, source code, videos, sculpture, books, zines, webpages, drawings, and merchandise. With such a varied range of artistic output, I wanted to delve into how his new media works were being collected compared with more traditional forms. The artist identifies 15 public institutions that have collected his pieces, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, Tate Britain, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. While I was unable to track down information on the collections of two of the museums, I was able to find 24 artworks amongst the 13 remaining collections: 11 prints, 6 videos, 5 game mods, 1 sound installation, 1 projection, and 1 drawing. What is noticeably missing from this list are any of the artist’s web-based projects and code.

gif of  Super Mario Clouds. Source.
The game mods were acquired as  a hacked video game cartridge along with a Nintendo consoles to play it on. The artist also distributes instructions and the source code from his website for free. For the exhibit Seeing Double at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2004, Arcangel was challenged to think about how his work might be displayed in the future. He opted to preserve the console and the cartridge because running it from an emulator in a gallery context would change the integrity of the piece. He stressed that using the original hardware would be the ideal way to present his work in thirty years’ time and that the work might no longer make sense to run in a gallery once replacing the hardware became too costly. Yet a mere decade later in 2014, Arcangel exhibited a tablet and five phones running a version of his modded games on emulators. Admittedly this is a new version of some of his older code, but one has to wonder if Arcangel’s view on using emulators in gallery spaces has loosened or if it only applies to this one new project.

One of the best practices often mentioned for new media work entering museum collections, is to ask the artist about how they envision their work to be presented in the future. This is normally a conversation about which elements are integral to the piece and what can be changed on upgraded over time. With the general public's understanding of the technology evolving quickly, it is difficult to predict the perceptions of future audiences. With new media artworks, museums might consider checking in with artists later in their careers to ascertain if their ideas have evolved. This model of establishing the artist’s intent for future display also centers the discussion on a single, central creator. If you look at the religious objects in museum collections, it’s clear that most are not being used in a way their makers would have desired. One might ask then, ‘When is it okay to diverge from the artist’s intent?’ Or ‘Are named artists more likely to have their wishes respected than unnamed indigenous artists?’

QuickOffice, which features code from Super Mario Clouds running on an emulator. Source.

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