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  • Translator: Joseph Geni Reviewer: Morton Bast

  • I'm almost like a crazy evangelical.

  • I've always known that the age of design is upon us,

  • almost like a rapture.

  • If the day is sunny, I think,

  • "Oh, the gods have had a good design day."

  • Or, I go to a show and I see a beautiful piece by an artist,

  • particularly beautiful, I say

  • he's so good because he clearly looked to design

  • to understand what he needed to do.

  • So I really do believe that design

  • is the highest form of creative expression.

  • That's why I'm talking to you today about the age of design,

  • and the age of design is the age in which design

  • is still cute furniture, is still posters,

  • is still fast cars, what you see at MoMA today.

  • But in truth, what I really would like to explain

  • to the public and to the audiences of MoMA is that

  • the most interesting chairs are the ones

  • that are actually made by a robot,

  • like this beautiful chair by Dirk Vander Kooij,

  • where a robot deposits a toothpaste-like slur

  • of recycled refrigerator parts,

  • as if he were a big candy, and makes a chair out of it.

  • Or good design is digital fonts that we use all the time

  • and that become part of our identity.

  • I want people to understand

  • that design is so much more than cute chairs,

  • that it is first and foremost everything that is around us

  • in our life.

  • And it's interesting how so much of what we're talking about

  • tonight is not simply design but interaction design.

  • And in fact, interaction design is what I've been trying

  • to insert in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art

  • for a few years, starting not very timidly

  • but just pointedly with works, for instance,

  • by Martin Wattenberg -- the way a machine

  • plays chess with itself, that you see here,

  • or Lisa Strausfeld and her partners, the Sugar interface

  • for One Laptop Per Child,

  • Toshio Iwai's Tenori-On musical instruments,

  • and Philip Worthington's Shadow Monsters,

  • and John Maeda's Reactive Books,

  • and also Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar's I Want You To Want Me.

  • These were some of the first acquisitions that really

  • introduced the idea of interaction design to the public.

  • But more recently, I've been trying really to go even deeper

  • into interaction design with examples

  • that are emotionally really suggestive

  • and that really explain interaction design at a level

  • that is almost undeniable.

  • The Wind Map, by Wattenberg and Fernanda Viégas,

  • I don't know if you've ever seen it -- it's really fantastic.

  • It looks at the territory of the United States

  • as if it were a wheat field that is procured by the winds

  • and that is really giving you a pictorial image

  • of what's going on with the winds in the United States.

  • But also, more recently, we started acquiring video games,

  • and that's where all hell broke loose

  • in a really interesting way. (Laughter)

  • There are still people that believe that there's a high and there's a low.

  • And that's really what I find so intriguing

  • about the reactions that we've had to the anointment

  • of video games in the MoMA collection.

  • We've -- No, first of all, New York Magazine always gets it.

  • I love them. So we are in the right quadrant.

  • We are in the Highbrow -- that's daring, that's courageous --

  • and Brilliant, which is great.

  • Timidly, we've been higher on the diagonal in other situations,

  • but it's okay. It's good. It's good. It's good. (Laughter)

  • But here comes the art critic. Oh, that was fantastic.

  • So the first was Jonathan Jones from The Guardian.

  • "Sorry, MoMA, video games are not art."

  • Did I ever say they were art? I was talking about interaction design. Excuse me.

  • "Exhibiting Pac-Man and Tetris alongside Picasso and Van Gogh" --

  • They're two floors away. (Laughter) —

  • "will mean game over for any real understanding of art."

  • I'm bringing in the end of the world. You know?

  • We were talking about the rapture? It's coming.

  • And Jonathan Jones is making it happen.

  • So the same Guardian rebuts,

  • "Are video games art: the debate that shouldn't be.

  • Last week, Guardian art critic blah blah suggested

  • that games cannot qualify as art. But is he right?

  • And does it matter?" Thank you. Does it matter?

  • You know, it's like once again there's this whole problem

  • of design being often misunderstood for art,

  • or the idea that is so diffuse that designers want to

  • aspire to, would like to be called, artists.

  • No. Designers aspire to be really great designers.

  • Thank you very much. And that's more than enough.

  • So my knight in shining armor, John Maeda,

  • without any prompt, came out with this big declaration

  • on why video games belong in the MoMA.

  • And that was fantastic. And I thought that was it.

  • But then there was another wonderfully pretentious article

  • that came out in The New Republic, so pretentious,

  • by Liel Leibovitz, and it said, "MoMA has mistaken video games for art." Again.

  • "The museum is putting Pac-Man alongside Picasso." Again.

  • "That misses the point."

  • Excuse me. You're missing the point.

  • And here, look, the above question is put bluntly:

  • "Are video games art? No. Video games aren't art

  • because they are quite thoroughly something else: code."

  • Oh, so Picasso is not art because it's oil paint. Right?

  • So it's so fantastic to see

  • how these feathers that were ruffled,

  • and these reactions, were so vehement.

  • And you know what?

  • The International Cat Video Film Festival

  • didn't have that much of a reaction. (Laughter)

  • I think this was truly fantastic.

  • We were talking about dancing ponies, but I was really jealous

  • of the Walker Arts Center for putting up this festival,

  • because it's very, very wonderful.

  • And there's this Flaubert quote that I love:

  • "I have always tried to live in an ivory tower,

  • but a tide of shit is beating at its walls,

  • threatening to undermine it."

  • I consider myself the tide of shit.

  • (Laughter) (Applause)

  • You know, we have to go through that.

  • Even in the 1930s, my colleagues

  • that were trying to put together an abstract art show

  • had all of these works stopped by the customs officers

  • that decided they were not art.

  • So it's happened before, and it will happen in the future,

  • but right now I can tell you that I am so, so proud

  • to be able to call Pac-Man part of the MoMA collection.

  • And the same with, for instance, Tetris, original version, the Soviet one.

  • And you know, the amount of work --

  • yeah, Alexey Pajitnov was working for the Soviet government

  • and that's how he developed Tetris,

  • and Alexey himself reconstructed the whole game

  • and even gave us a simulation of the cathode ray tube

  • that makes it look slightly bombed.

  • And it's fantastic.

  • So behind these acquisitions is an enormous amount of work,

  • because we're still the Museum of Modern Art,

  • so even when we tackle popular culture,

  • we tackle it as a form of interaction design

  • and as something that has to go into the collection at MoMA,

  • therefore, has to be researched.

  • So to get to choosing Eric Chahi's

  • wonderful Another World, amongst others,

  • we put together a panel of experts,

  • and we worked on this acquisition,

  • and it's mostly myself and Kate Carmody and Paul Galloway.

  • We worked on it for a year and a half.

  • So many people helped usdesigners of games,

  • you might know Jamin Warren

  • and his collaborators at Kill Screen magazine,

  • and you know, Kevin Slavin. You name it.

  • We bugged everybody, because we knew that we were ignorant.

  • We were not real gamers enough,

  • so we had to really talk to them.

  • And so we decided, of course, to have Sim City 2000,

  • not the other Sim City, that one in particular,

  • so the criteria that we developed along the way

  • were really strong, and were not only criteria of selection.

  • They were also criteria of exhibition and of preservation.

  • That's what makes this acquisition more than a little game

  • or a little joke. It's truly a way to think of how to preserve

  • and show artifacts that will more and more

  • become part of our lives in the future.

  • We live today, as you know very well, not in the digital,

  • not in the physical, but in the kind of minestrone

  • that our mind makes of the two.

  • And that's really where interaction lies,

  • and that's the importance of interaction.

  • And in order to explain interaction, we need to really

  • bring people in and make them realize

  • how interaction is part of their lives.

  • So when I talk about it, I don't talk only about video games,

  • which are in a way the purest form of interaction,

  • unadulterated by any kind of function or finality.

  • I also talk about the MetroCard vending machine,

  • which I consider a masterpiece of interaction.

  • I mean, that interface is beautiful.

  • It looks like a burly MTA guy coming out of the tunnel.

  • You know, with your mitt you can actually paw

  • the MetroCard, and I talk about how bad

  • ATM machines usually are.

  • So I let people understand that it's up to them

  • to know how to judge interaction

  • so as to know when it's good or when it's bad.

  • So when I show The Sims,

  • I try to make people really feel what it meant

  • to have an interaction with The Sims,

  • not only the fun but also the responsibility

  • that came with the Tamagotchi.

  • You know, video games can be truly deep

  • even when they're completely mindless.

  • I'm sure that all of you know Katamari Damacy.

  • It's about rolling a ball and picking up as many objects as you can

  • in a finite amount of time

  • and hopefully you'll be able to make it into a planet.

  • I've never made it into a planet, but that's it.

  • Or, you know, Vib-Ribbon was not distributed here in the United States.

  • It was a PlayStation game, but mostly for Japan.

  • And it was one of the first video games

  • in which you could choose your own music.

  • So you would put into the PlayStation,

  • you would put your own CD,

  • and then the game would change alongside your music. So really fantastic.

  • Not to mention Eve Online.

  • Eve Online is an artificial universe, if you wish,

  • but one of the diplomats that was killed in Benghazi,

  • not Ambassador Stevens, but one of his collaborators,

  • was a really big shot in Eve Online,

  • so here you have a diplomat in the real world

  • that spends his time in Eve Online

  • to kind of test, maybe, all of his ideas about diplomacy

  • and about universe-building, and to the point that

  • the first announcement of the bombing

  • was actually given on Eve Online,

  • and after his death, several parts of the universe

  • were named after him.

  • And I was just recently at the Eve Online fan festival

  • in Reykjavík that was quite amazing.

  • I mean, we're talking about an experience

  • that of course can seem weird to many,

  • but that is very educational.

  • Of course, there are games that are even more educational.

  • Dwarf Fortress is like the holy grail

  • of this kind of massive multiplayer online game,

  • and in fact the two Adams brothers were in Reykjavík,

  • and they were greeted

  • by a standing ovation by all the Eve Online fans.

  • It was amazing to see. And it's a beautiful game.

  • So you start seeing here that

  • the aesthetics that are so important

  • to a museum collection like MoMA's

  • are kept alive also by the selection of these games.

  • And you know, Valve -- you know, Portal --

  • is an example of a video game in which

  • you have a certain type of violence

  • which also leads me to talk about

  • one of the biggest issues that we had to discuss

  • when we acquired the video games, what to do with violence.

  • Right? We had to make decisions.

  • At MoMA, interestingly, there's a lot of violence

  • depicted in the art part of the collection,

  • but when I came to MoMA 19 years ago, and as an Italian,

  • I said, "You know what, we need a Beretta."

  • And I was told, "No. No guns in the design collection."

  • And I was like, "Why?"

  • Interestingly, I learned that it's considered

  • that in design and in the design collection,

  • what you see is what you get.

  • So when you see a gun, it's an instrument for killing in the design collection.