The hub for the “New Fiction” exhibition will be open through February 27, but what can players expect from it?
At a glance, KAW’s new show at London’s Serpentine Galleries appears to be a retrospective. Featuring more than 20 sculptures and paintings that were loaned from private collections, the works of art also made it to “New Fiction”, a virtual exhibition that’s viewable in high definition via Fortnite. Epic Game’s Fortnite is one of the world’s largest online video games, with more than 400 million registered Fortnite accounts. The artist has transformed the exhibition in the Serpentine North Gallery into a creative hub within the game. Players can dress up as pink KAWS “Companion” skeletons (which can’t be purchased in the Fortnite Item Shop, sorry) and roam around the exhibition, as well as the fantasy grounds outside.
Inserting Culture In Games
Whatever your thoughts are about KAWS’ work, making it prominently available inside one of the most popular video games in the world is a huge deal, and it’s all part of an ongoing process of Epic sneaking culture into what’s ostensibly a multiplayer shooter. There are high-profile examples, of course, such as the massive musical events from the likes of Ariana Grande, Travis Scott, and Marshmello. There have also been smaller-scale – albeit stranger – virtual performances such as having radio stations while players drive around the map and music everywhere from the dance club on the Party Royale island. Prominent artists like Yuko Shimizu and Christian Ward also made an “appearance” by creating loading screens and other in-game art for Fortnite. Just last Halloween, players could buy a KAWS-designed in-game character in the Fortnite Item Shop. In general, Fortnite is just a big, messy mishmash of pop culture, and increasingly, that includes more than just big brands like Star Wars and Marvel.
Hans Ulrich Obrist, the artistic director of Serpentine, stated that “New Fiction” is a unique project that tests how Serpentine can enter the multiverse. Unbeknownst to non-art peeps, the gallery has been experimenting with technologies in recent years, initiating projects that are bridging the gap between pop culture and at, an example of which is the collab with the K-pop sensation, BTS.
This Isn’t Anything New
The latest Fortnite exhibition is essentially a virtual recreation of an IRL display at the real Serpentine in London which is currently underway, but this isn’t anything new. Compared to other, similar virtual events, this one’s pretty simple. It doesn’t have the surreal inactivity of the virtual Fortnite installation from 2020, “Your Progress Will Be Saved”, or the Kid A Mnesia exhibition that was created as a collaboration between Epic Games and Radiohead. Instead, what we’ve got is a fairly straightforward recreation of the gallery where you can wander around and take in the exhibits at your own pace. Aside from the building, there’s a massive outdoor garden with towering KAWS statues.
Arguably the most interesting thing about the Fortnite version of the “New Fiction” exhibit is how it’s being presented. It’s not tucked away in its own section of the Creative Mode, nor do you have to use a code to access it. Instead, it’s the main hub. Say you want to hop in and see what the latest popular Creative Mode games there are. From there, you’ll be plopped into the garden outside of the gallery. You can wander around and pick games and experiences to try, but you might also be tempted by the giant red Companion statue lingering in the background as it tries to lure you to see what the “New Fiction” exhibit is all about.
Reaching Audiences From Around the World
Due to the pandemic making frequent travel nigh impossible these days, visiting the Serpentine in London is more than difficult for most people that don’t already live near the vicinity. KAWS then thought, “Why not bring the exhibition to them?”. With the help of gaming technicians, they’ve used pictures of the model, and of the gallery, to imagine how the game and show could come together. They’ve done a lot of tests to see if they can crash it, to see if it’s a functional game.
This project will reach bigger audiences – bigger than the Venice Biennale. The “New Fiction” exhibit is a new kind of local project that has a global reach. Not only that, but in this manner, it makes it possible for art to be accessible to everyone – not just to those who have to visit museums and galleries from faraway countries. And with Fortnite taking that extra step for Fortnite account owners, it won’t be long before other online games might follow suit.