Maeda Defends MoMA Acquisition of Video Games

The Museum of Modern Art has taken some lumps for acquiring video games Pac-Man, Tetris, SimCity, and Myst (Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, among others, are up next). But RISD President John Maeda, a pioneering digital artist in his own right, defends the move in a new column in Wired magazine. From the piece:

When I was invited to a MoMA Board meeting a couple of years ago to field questions about the future of art with Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, we were asked about how MoMA should make acquisitions in the digital age. Schmidt answered, Graduate-style, with just one word: “quality.”

And that answer has stuck with me even today, because he was absolutely right – quality trumps all, whatever the medium and tools are: paints or pixels, canvas or console.

The problem is that what “quality” represents in the digital age hasn’t been identified much further than heuristic-metrics like company IPOs and the market share of well-designed technology products. It’s even more difficult to describe quality when it comes to something as non-quantitative – and almost entirely qualitative – as art and design.

Now, I must disclose two biases here. My own artwork is in the permanent collection at MoMA; it’s a set of traditional posters and five “reactive graphics” for the computer that serves as reference pieces for the interactive graphics movement. The other bias is that I’m an unabashed proponent of fusing design, technology, and leadership.

Just as software and art are now inextricably linked – this is part of what MoMA has established by acquiring my work and the recent videogames – I believe that design and technology help leaders navigate this information age. So yes, I’m pleased to see MoMA show intellectual leadership in acquiring videogames, the most modern expression of humankind’s ability to fuse rich design and technology into an immersive, interactive experience.

Because leadership, like gaming – in fact, like all kinds of art – is about taking risks, and often failing along the way.

So I wouldn’t be surprised if MoMA’s initial videogames acquisitions aren’t the right ones. Especially if you consider how MoMA’s entire collection has evolved over the years. Only time will tell if these 40 videogames, my own work, and the other art and design works in the MoMA collection will grow or fade.



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