After spending the last three years working to unite the worlds of art and gaming under one roof, the Video Game Art Gallery will soon have a roof to call its own. The local nonprofit announced today that on August 11 it will level up to a brick-and-mortar location at the Bloomingdale Arts Building alongside the 606. The institution will be a first of its kind cultural outlet in Chicago and one of only a few in North America.
Since its launch in 2014, VGA Gallery’s focus has been on selling high-quality prints of video game art on its website while organizing exhibitions, artist residencies, and a variety of pop-up events at local art spaces. Last fall, the gallery partnered with the Rebuild Foundation for an exhibit of Philip Mallory Jones’s game Dateline: Bronzeville; at Mana Contemporary in October 2015, VGA offered a preview of William Chyr’s architecture- and physics-minded PlayStation game Manifold Garden.
A permanent home will help VGA further its case for the artistic merit of video games, says executive director Jonathan Kinkley, who cofounded VGA Gallery in 2014 with Chaz Evans, director of exhibitions and programs. “We see [VGA Gallery] as a place for education and discovery for games with artistic aims and merits,” Kinkley says. “The broader public just knows the shoot-’em-ups like Call of Duty and mobile phone games like Candy Crush, but we’re hoping to change the narrative and help people learn about games that aren’t as well known but have exceptional personal narratives and self-expression.”
VGA Gallery’s inaugural exhibition will display artwork from Savior, billed as the first true indie game from Cuba. It’s a metaphysical game, about the deconstruction of a world, Kinkley says, developed by two Cuban natives, an artist and a programmer, using a “spotty Internet connection” on the island nation which has been under the strict control of the despotic government for decades.
As part of a strategy to fund VGA Gallery, Evans and Kinkley have set up the 800-square-foot space at the onetime metal-stamping factory at 2418 W. Bloomingdale to double as a quirky Airbnb rental five days a week, when it’s not being used for art openings or events. Starting August 11, the gallery will be open to the public on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 PM and Sundays from noon to 5 PM.
“The commercial real estate market is steep—we can’t afford $2,000 a month—so this model made sense to make our dream a reality,” Kinkley says. On July 11, VGA Gallery is launching a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter with a goal of raising at least $10,000 in order to cover initial costs.
Video games continue to gain traction in the fine-art world but permanent art galleries devoted to the medium are a rarity. The National Videogame Museum opened in Frisco, Texas, in April 2016, but it’s mostly a well-curated arcade. Iam8bit in Los Angeles began as a something of a gaming gallery space in 2004 but has morphed into a massive vintage video-game-themed production company and lifestyle brand. VGA Gallery’s closest U.S. analog is Babycastles Gallery in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood.
“It’s safe to say that we’re pretty distinctive,” Kinkley says. “There aren’t a lot of other places approaching games as an artistic medium.”
Video Game Art Gallery opening exhibition 8/11, 5-8 PM, 2418 W. Bloomingdale #102, 773-668-6797, videogameartgallery.com.