Brow Beat

Marina Abramović’s “The Artist Is Present,” Now in 8-Bit!

Shooting aliens, driving fast cars, and bare-knuckle boxing some street toughs are the kind of adrenaline-pumping activities most gamers crave. How about waiting in line at a museum? Computer game research professor and author of the upcoming book How To Play A Video Game Pippin Barr has made a subversively boring game called The Artist is Present. It simulates the experience of waiting in line to see contemporary artist Marina Abramović, who held an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010. Her show, also titled “The Artist is Present,” created a frenzy of media attention and hours-long waits for the chance to sit across from Abramović and look into her eyes for as long as you wanted. 

“I wanted to make a video game about art, [and] few works of contemporary art have that kind of famousness and stature that this [exhibit did],” Barr told me in a phone interview from Copenhagen this morning. “At first I just thought a game about this would be hilarious, but then I realized there could be some seriousness to it as well. No one has ever really made a video game about the experience of contemporary art.” He was unconcerned that the game might seem outdated, seeing as it came to life over a year after the show closed. “I don’t really think of it as that tied to the actual exhibit. It’s more about art in general.”

Barr’s game, designed in delightfully old-fashioned graphics, compels you to—spoiler alert—go to the museum, pay for a ticket, walk through a couple of galleries (bedecked with 8-bit versions of such paintings as Starry Night) and then get at the back of a long line of  8-bit people. The game itself is set to the museum’s hours, so players can only enjoy it when MoMA is open (Eastern Standard Time, of course). “It’s also closed on Tuesdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas,” Barr adds.

Does Barr have a larger point he’s trying to make with his game? “I didn’t do it to make a statement, or to be provocative or challenging at all. I really admire Abramović and I wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible.” Barr never saw the exhibit himself, though he wished he could have. “But I’m not sure I would have been willing to queue up at 5:30 in the morning.”

I couldn’t tell upon playing the game if it was possible to ever get to the front of the line, or if the game was some kind of prank about infinite waiting. “I wished I’d built some code to track how long people would wait,” says Barr. But he assures me,  “You can actually make it to the front. I did it yesterday and it took 5 hours. But once you get to the front, you can stare into her eyes for as long as you want.”

You can experience The Artist Is Present yourself over at Barr’s website (be sure to arrive early).