‘You Literally Got Me Into KAWS Fam’: What Game-Playing Teens Think About the Artist’s New Project on Fortnite

Gamers who are unable see the London exhibition in person welcome the initiative, hoping to see more partnerships between videogames and art.

'KAWS: NEW FICTION 'in Fortnite. © Epic Games

London’s art critics have, almost unanimously, given the KAWS exhibition, which opened recently at the Serpentine Galleries, a thumbs down. But a much younger crowd, which has been viewing the show on the videogame Fortnite, has a very different opinion.

New Fiction” is the artist’s first major solo show in the UK capital, and in addition to the presentation of paintings and sculptures in London, visitors across the globe can see the exhibition online through the massive multiplayer game Fortnite—an experiment for all the parties involved. There are also virtual versions of the artist’s famous crossed-eye “Companion” sculpture that can be viewed via Acute Art’s augmented reality app.

But the technological twists have apparently failed to please the critics. The Evening Standard’s Ben Luke said the show is “unspeakably awful” and “soul-crushingly boring,” giving it just one star. “I have no idea why the Serpentine has got involved with this,” bemoaned Eddy Frankel, who also gave the show one star in Time Out. “I want to be immersed in KAWS about as much as I want to be immersed in a vat of pus […] It has no concepts, no emotions, no beauty and absolutely no point.” And the Telegraph’s Alastair Smart calls the show a “lost KAWS.”

On the other hand, Fortnite players who choose to roam around the virtual grounds of the Serpentine wearing KAWS-themed skins appear to be having a great time in the show, jumping around and chasing after each other in the gallery, which wouldn’t be allowed in reality. Some have even said they loved the works, a stark contrast to Smart’s prediction in his review that it would be “hard to see any player having a meaningful experience in the would-be exhibition.”

“I would say it’s pretty awesome,” Max Kipiniak, a 17-year-old Brooklyn-based high school student, told Artnet News. Kipiniak said he was familiar with KAWS and owned clothes from the artist’s collaboration with Japanese brand Uniqlo. He also found the partnership between an online video game and an artist impressive and he hoped to see more of it.

“The art itself in the gallery was not extremely impressive to me. I guess I prefer to see art in person rather than online, but it was still cool to see his sculptures and art pieces come to life in a video game,” he continued. “I respect artists like KAWS for being open-minded enough to seek out unique ways to publicize their art to new audiences.”

John Olusetire, a 25-year-old software developer based in Nigeria who does not regularly visit art galleries, said “the creative hub and the art (both paintings and sculptures) were cool.” He added that the Fortnite show “was easy to navigate. There’s a 2D map you can access,” and he pointed to a game-specific feature that particularly won him over: “I loved the maze, figuring it out was fun.”

“Overall [it was] a good experience,” said a 16-year-old gamer from India, who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s good to see art displayed inside a game like Fortnite. I have never been to any actual art museums in person, now with the pandemic situation, I am happy to see it in the form of a creative hub.”

Serpentine has said that the show, curated by Daniel Birnbaum, artistic director of the VR and AR production company Acute Art, could reach some 400 million Fortnite players. Organizers have declined to reveal exactly how many players have checked into the virtual show since it debuted a week ago, but it is certainly discussed online. Some players have written on Reddit saying that the show was cool. On Twitter, @GAMMAVERSE_ said: “I am in awe.” @OgEcomiMemelord replied: “You literally got me into kaws fam!” And @Masa_LJwG said: “I enjoyed the exhibition a lot! Thank you from Japan.”

For those unable to join the game, there is no lack of players’ tour videos streaming on YouTube. “So beautiful,” commented Youtuber ShiKago773, who visited the virtual exhibition in a pink KAWS-themed skin. In the video, ShiKago773’s character is seen standing in front of nearly every single work and examining each of them.

“I have these [sculptures as] keychains. I love them. That’s badass,” ShiKago773 adds. “There are so many of [the artworks], so many feelings. Wow. Oh my gosh, Fortnite, thank you. I love it.”

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