“Video games can never be art,” the late film critic Roger Ebert once declared, adding fuel to an argument that has inspired countless Reddit threads and sprawling think pieces in the subsequent years. Art purists claim that video games are just another form of entertainment, while video game enthusiasts counter that games can be just as beautiful and intellectually stimulating as any painting or sculpture. The feud didn’t abate when the Smithsonian American Art Museum added two video games (the gorgeous wind simulator Flower and the intentionally retro sci-fi shooter Halo 2600) to its permanent collection in 2013. Now a pair of Chicagoan are preparing a to debut a gallery show consisting entirely of video game art at Logan Square’s Galerie F.
VGA Gallery co-founder Jonathan Kinkley studied art history in college, becoming familiar with figures like Picasso and Warhol, but his free time was spent controlling the adventures of characters like Mario and Master Chief. He met Chaz Evans while pursuing his Masters degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the two bonded over their shared interest in the intersection of fine art and video games. When they graduated, the pair decided to form an online gallery, creating a venue “to draw attention to the individuals creating art for games.”
“Much of the work is informed by art history, these are artists who have been picked from top art schools around the country,” Kinkley explains, referencing concept and environment art derived from blockbuster titles like BioShock Infinite and Journey that is featured in the gallery. Currently, VGA Gallery is funded by online sale of prints through its online store, but attaining this artwork is no easy task. “When a work of art is created for a game it automatically becomes the property of the game publisher, so the artist does not own the rights to that drawing or painting,” Kinkley told us “We get the artist on board, and then the developer and the publisher so that we can come together on an agreement to make the work available.”
The upcoming art show at Galerie F is VGA Gallery's first foray into exhibiting art in a public setting, but fans shouldn't expect to see a permanent video game art museum in the city anytime soon. "Not having a brick and mortar space is kind of a strength because it allows us to develop partnerships with galleries and becoming more ingrained in Chicago's art community," Kinkley said, elaborating on his desire to set up shop at trade shows like C2E2 and (eventually) San Diego Comic-Con. Visitors to the Galerie F show will be able to view neon environmental paintings created for the indie PC game MirrorMoon EP as well as trippy artwork from Sierra's King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder that looks as if it was inspired by '70s album covers. VGA Gallery's first exhibition isn't likely to end the 'video games as art' argument, but it does make a strong case for the talented individuals who bring a human touch to each game's digital world.
The VGA Galley launch party kicks off Friday, August 8 at Galerie F from 6-8pm.