Playful exhibits use games as their inspiration
Karen Campbell - The Christian Science Monitor
A wacky collection of Ping-Pong paddles isn't standard exhibition fare, but Massachusett's Museum of Contemporary Art's current exhibition, "Game Show," is the first major exploration of art that uses the structures and themes of games as its source.
In the three years since its opening, the converted mill buildings of MASS MoCA in the mountains of western Massachusetts have come to be known as a mecca of cutting-edge and experimental contemporary art. MoCA's new exhibition, on view through April 2002, features 30 artist-designed puzzles, obstacle courses, word and video games, many of them interactive.
The rules of the games are often cleverly obscured or made to be broken. And sometimes they're impossible to follow, imparting a kind of subversive whimsy that is both entertaining and challenging.
Uri Tzaig's "Trance," for instance, consists of a variety of marbles on a bumpy-surfaced table surrounded by four chairs. Visitors are invited to sit and create their own game.
Some of the works are more frustrating than fun, such as a series of computer games with a conceptual twist and Chris Finley's eye-catching but ineffective optical obstacle courses. Others are a satisfying blend of the visual, intellectual, and emotional.
The most impressive is Kay Rosen's commissioned "The Sight and Sound of Music," which transforms a 30-by-130-foot wall into a giant word-music puzzle. The green peaks and valleys against the blue-lined graph, with an alphabet on the side, are visually compelling and provide the solution to deciphering the game's code.
Sophie Calle sets up elaborate role-playing games not for the viewer but for herself, from outfitting and inhabiting a phone booth and recording the reactions of passersby, to taking a found address book and contacting all the people in it, asking them to talk about its owner. She then documents her work in installations, texts, and photos.
The most moving piece is also the most simple: Danny O's "Ball Walk," a 25-foot circle of found balls of all shapes, sizes, and colors that invites the visitor to both marvel and imagine their stories. The accompanying text humorously adds, "That the balls have lived full lives is evident from their often decrepit appearance and the rather rank odor that fills the gallery on hot days."
There are two historical companion exhibits as well: the only US retrospective of Oyvind Fahlstrom (1928-1976), considered a pioneer of multimedia interactive art and game structures; and a showcase of the loose association of artists known during the 1960s and '70s as Fluxus, who were drawn to games full of built-in absurdities. This refreshingly low-tech little gem, on view through December 2001, is alone worth the price of admission.