Video games have been prevalent in contemporary culture for decades. Given the sheer number of players (more than half of all Americans are gamers, according to a 2018 Entertainment Software Association survey) and the amount of revenue created ($134.9 billion in 2018), video games exert a huge impact on contemporary life. Visual artists are gamers too—as immersed in video game culture as anyone else—yet video games have rarely been examined as a major influence on contemporary art. Open World: Video Games & Contemporary Art presents the work of artists who use video games as a catalyst for making art that addresses timely issues including gun violence, migration, and gender equality. The artworks in Open World reference a broad cross-section of games, ranging from early text adventure and arcade games to more recent releases such as World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto.

Akron Art Museum Curator of Exhibitions, Theresa Bembnister, said, “The artists in Open World reference some of the most beloved video game franchises including Super Mario Bros., Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda. Their work draws attention to the rich opportunities video games offer for creative expression.”

Arcangel 02 I Shot Andy Warhol still5

Open World presents the work of 23 national and international artists. The exhibition’s title refers to open-world video games, which allow a player to roam through a virtual world, freely selecting their objectives. In addition to traditional media, such as painting, drawing and sculpture, the exhibition also highlights textiles, prints, animation, video games, video game modifications and game-based performances and interventions by makers who self-identify as artists.

Bembnister said, “Although all of the Open World artists are influenced by video games, the artwork they make is about more than gaming culture. They tackle topics crucial to contemporary life, including the role of consumer products in shaping personal identity and technology’s ability to create credible—yet false—imagery. Some use their artwork as a platform to advocate for justice for marginalized people.”

Open World features an immersive installation with interactive artworks. The quiet, introspective game The Night Journey (2007-18), created by Bill Viola in conjunction with the USC Game Innovation Lab, mimics the process of achieving spiritual enlightenment, while Feng Mengbo’s energetic side-scrolling platformer Long March: Restart (2008) loosely recounts a significant event in Chinese history through 8-bit graphics. Retro gamers will enjoy Cory Arcangel’s I Shot Andy Warhol (2002), a modification of the 1984 Nintendo Entertainment System game Hogan’s Alley. Skinsuits, a newly commissioned virtual reality experience by artist Rachel Rossin, is unveiled to the public as part of Open World.

Menchaca Gotta Catch Em All

Artists included in the exhibition are: Ueli Alder (Hemberg, Switzerland), 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), Joan Pamboukes (New York), Oliver Payne (Los Angeles), Tim Portlock (St. Louis), Tabor Robak (New York), Jacolby Satterwhite (New York), Skawennati (Montreal), Suzanne Treister (London), Nathan Vincent (Los Angeles), Angela Washko (Pittsburgh) and Mathew Zefeldt (Minneapolis).

Open World Arcade
As a complement to the exhibition, the Akron Art Museum will host a day-long indie game event on Saturday, December 7, 2019, from 11:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. The video games that inspired Open World artists will be available to play. Visitors can explore a showcase of indie tabletop and video games juried by Tracy Fullerton, designer of the multi-award-winning game Walden and Director of the USC Innovation Lab. The jurying panel also includes J. Collins, a computer science teacher at Hathaway Brown and games policy expert, along with Open World artists Angelo Ray Martínez and Angela Washko. Visitors will be able to meet Open World Arcade game designers. Registration for one of three Open World Arcade session is required. Member tickets are $10; nonmember tickets are $24; children 12 and under are free. Tickets are available at

Open World is on view at the Akron Art Museum from October 19, 2019, through February 2, 2020.