PlayArt Play Art Logo
The twenty-first century will be the century of play
Brian Sutton-Smith
 
Chronology

1913 Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, a “readymade” play object that transformed Duchamp’s outlook on life while he played with it (see essay).
1923 Bauhaus, Alma Siedhoff-Buscher, Bauspiel and Josef Hartwig's, chess set, two of the first play objects at the Bauhaus.
1926-31 Alexander Calder, Circus, and ca. 100 additional figurative, playful sculptures in the following years.  Calder is best known as the inventor of mobiles. With the motion of his mobiles he created the same playful enjoyment that Duchamp experienced while spinning his wheel. (see essay)
1953 Yaacov Agam, at his first exhibition at the Galerie Craven in Paris, 45 transformable works for the participation of the spectator were exhibited. He later explored other art forms but continued with this type of work throughout his entire career.
1960 Lygia Clark, Bichos, Clark herself fought a constant battle for people to be able to continue to handle and play with the sculptures after they had passed into public and private collections. They were never intended to be merely looked at. (Guy Brett, Art in America) Clark's later works were interactive pieces, which made it difficult for museum curators to properly display them in their institutions. Consequently, her works from the late 1960s onward have not been seen in art exhibitions. (Wikipedia)
1961 Kurt Naef, Swiss toy maker, began production of wooden play objects by a growing number of international artists.  After 1977, he also reproduced  Bauhaus play objects under license of the Bauhaus Museum.  By 1995 ca. 120 artistic objects were published.  The Naef collection was supposed to be an essential part of the planned PlayArt exhibition at MoMA in 1969 (see image and Lanier Graham, 1969).
1962 Ernst Lurker, while an art student in Hamburg, created four moveable wooden sculptures that invited playful interaction by the viewer. He coined the term “PlayArt” as a descriptive categorization for this type of work. One of the pieces (TinkerLinks) was later enlarged for the Munich Olympics (see essay and video).
1969 Lanier Graham, by now, curator at MoMA, devised plans for a PlayArt exhibition at MoMA.  The project was not realized as he left MoMA and moved to San Francisco (see his letter).
1972 Munich Olympics, the first, large, public introduction of the PlayArt movement. The Olympic committee needed a contrasting program to the pompous and overbearing Hitler Olympics of 1936. It was decided to let the audience interact with a playful art environment. The entire theme was called “Play Street” (Spielstrasse). (see this letter)
1975
Art – Action and Participation, Author: Frank Popper, the authoritative book on the movement to that point. The study documents how “ludic” activities evolved from many different art forms. (Review)
1977, 1982
and 1984
Tokyo, three exhibitions by the name of Museum of Fun; curator: Itsuo Sakane, sponsor: Asahi Shimbun (Tokyo newspaper). Sakane later regretted that he did not know about PlayArt, he would have preferred to use that name. (see excerpt of his catalogue introduction)
1985 Bayer AG (pharmaceuticals), publication of the book PlayArt and Creativity (in English, with illustrations) by Ernst Lurker, with a preface by Hans Theodor Flemming, art historian (E 269-865/840-193). (see foreword)
1987 Susi Brunner Gallery, Zurich, PlayArt exhibition, primarily the Naef collection.
1987 Creation of the Institute for Research and Education in Play (Institut für Spielforschung und Spielpädagogik) in Salzburg, Austria. As a member of TASP (The Association for the Study of Play), Ernst Lurker reported about its first international symposium in the TASP Newsletter. The PlayArt movement was an important topic. (see report as PDF)
1989 The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) developed plans for a worldwide travelling exhibition of PlayArt. ASTC has nearly 600 members in 40 countries. For its fundraising presentation, the organization requested a number of supportive letters from prospective, participating artists. The response was enthusiastic, and some of these letters are shown on the Support page. Unfortunately, officials underestimated the required funds and were forced to abandon the project.
1992 Leo Castelli, supported the PlayArt movement. He contacted his liaisons at leading institutions but without success (see his letter and an essay).
1995 Berlin, the City made a commitment to create a Museum of PlayArt.  The concept included funding by the city and the creation of a new type of museum.  More than 1,000 artists were on the program.  (see this letter)
1995,1997,
1999, and
2001
Itsuo Sakane continued his curatorial work with four additional exhibitions. They were called “Interaction” but he saw the connection to play. (see excerpt of his catalogue introduction)
1999
Joerg Schulze became the first professor for PlayArt in St. Petersburg, Russia.
2001
Charles Long creates 100 Pounds of Clay, a groundbreaking work of PlayArt that is shown for the first time at the Dan Elias Gallery in Boston and subsequently in various museums. In its starting configuration, the artwork consists of 100 one-pound blocks of brightly colored modeling clay. The audience is invited to pick them up and play with them, thus a multitude of ever changing individual sculptures is being created.
2002
Relational Aesthetics, author: Nicolas Bourriaud. Up until this time, the term “interactive art” was the dominant designation for this art form. Bourriaud’s new term “relational art” (which he coined in 1995) gained more and more currency. The implication is that artists began to work more with communicative group activities. Nevertheless, they remained a form of play. (see review)
2006
Carsten Höller, one of the most ambitious and powerful works of PlayArt, the Test Site (5 slides in one hall) at the Tate Modern, London. The longest slide was 55,5 meters long and dropped 26,5 meters from level five of the building to the Turbine Hall floor. (see video)
2008 Berlin, suspended the museum plans.  After the return of the German government from Bonn to Berlin (1999) the city’s financial situation was significantly strained.  Hopes that this situation would improve were defeated by the global financial crisis.
2009 Wikipedia, the PlayArt entry was deleted on the grounds that the art form does not exist.  This action brought to light the necessity for documenting this movement in more extensive detail. (see rebuttal)
2010 Play Biennial, a collaboration between the Guggenheim Museum and YouTube for a video competition. The event is a significant breakthrough in two areas. The use of the term Play in conjunction with an art museum indicates a groundbreaking change of attitude since art and play were previously considered incompatible. The opening of such a venerable institution to a mass media is a giant step towards the democratization of art (see essay).
2011 Venice Biennale, PlayArt is represented by (alias) Norma Jeane. Her work consists of numerous plasticine bricks that form a large block in the center of the room. The visitors are invited to remove the individual portions and play with them, using the walls and the floor. The installation breaks down over time as the players use up the malleable material. The old "do-not-touch" rule and the commodification of art works are again invalidated. The audience is encouraged to become creative, a primary objective of PlayArt.
2011 Carsten Höller, one person show at the New Museum in New York. The show spanned work from 1993 to 2011 and was a huge success with the public. The museum staff had to be doubled, the attendance figures doubled and tripled. The reviews by art critics were less enthusiastic; one writer called the artwork "interactive claptrap". But the audience was undeterred by the critics. (See details of the slide installation.)
2012 Emergency Shut Down of the PlayArt Website, due to "overload on the server". At least, that was the official explanation, however, various experts expressed serious doubts about this matter. It is true, the term PlayArt had gone viral; it was appropriated by thousands of unrelated entities and became established in hundreds of languages, including Russian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. – languages that do not even share our Latin alphabet. The hosting company claimed that it could not manage the amount of traffic that was generated in record-breaking amounts (see essay: PlayArt’s Cool Factor)
2012 The Art of Video Games at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a watershed exhibition that documented the forty-year evolution of video games and authoritatively established this medium as an art form. Video games have grown into a $93 billion industry, and a single video game took in $1 billion on the first day of sales, making it the biggest launch in the entertainment industry ever (Daily News, 11/6/2013). There is no better indicator for the status and the direction of our culture than the phenomenon of video games.


2013 MACRO Museum, Rome: PlayArt, Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam.
2013 Great interest in the concept for a PlayArt Museum in the Emirates. Two agents established connections to government representatives at the very top. However, an exploratory trip (10/6 to 10/21) by Ernst Lurker proved to be unproductive. (For more detailed information see: http://www.playart.org/news.php)
2014 PlayArt Exhibition (Feb. to May) at the Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland. A show of approximately 100 works of art, however, the official title was "Play Objects - The Art of Possibilities". Since the exhibition displayed numerous large, sculptural works, even machines and an environment (by Yayoi Kusama), the name was clearly a misnomer. Such pieces are usually not called "objects." We seem to have another example of the common attitude that play and art are incompatible terms. (See a page of the Website for the exhibition. The term PlayArt appeared in the text, but not in the title.)
2014 Victor Rugg, in his futuristic, science fiction book, Everything Is, he describes a play culture not only on planet earth, but also on the fictitious planet Plytar. He writes: Amusement parks like Disney World were kept and modified into PlayArt complexes. All PlayArt museums would become extremely popular and expanding them became a top priority…people had time to enjoy them.
2014 Lygia Clark, comprehensive retrospective at MoMA, and the first in the US. Clark produced more than 100 hinged objects which she called "bichos" (creatures) and she insisted that the audience should play with them. However, MoMA reproduced only three sculptures that could be manipulated by the public – not necessarily appropriate for a pioneer of PlayArt.
2015 Interplay, exhibition at the Science Centre Singapore (May to Aug.) Ed Tannenbaum and numerous other members of the movement participated.
2015 The year PlayArt went viral. For many years, internet searches for PlayArt produced search results in numbers above 1 Billion, however, the majority were appropriations by entities that had no connection to the actual art form. This demonstrates how the concept resonates in our culture. In 2015, the following, impressive sites refer to PlayArt, the art form:

There are more than 1,000 artists affiliated with the PlayArt movement; many use the name or even the PlayArt logo on their own site, many do not. But the numbers are steadily increasing.
2015 Unexpected Accolades

Bernard DeKoven
(3/11/2015)

"I was so struck by the depth and breadth of the PlayArt site that I had to bookmark it for fear I might get lost in the sheer abundance of images, quotes and essays. It is clearly a resource that we could all be mining for years in our ever-deepening journeys on our playful paths." Click here for more

Mimi Berlin
(8/10/2015)

"We never heard of the term Play Art, but last week we found a site (the only one actually) which categorized art from the past 20th and 21st century with this term. According to Ernst Lurker of Playart.org it all started with Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel in 1903. The latest work on his site is by Lygia Clark made in 2013 (see image above) After seeing the art categorized by Ernst Lurker under "Play Art" we thought an exhibition on "Play Art" is a nice way for people who don't like or "understand" art 'cause it should trigger you inner, curious, child. Mr Lurker of Playart.org already has a concept for a museum..." Click here for more


 
Comments
 
#1 Japanese translation of “play”
Submitted by Itsuo Sakane on Thu, 10/21/2010 – 05:57.
The Japanese translation of "play" is "asobi", and even my long series of columns, the exhibitions based on these columns and my books are all called "Museum of Asobi", meaning Museum of Play.

#2 Johan Huizinga’s objections
Submitted by Ernst Lurker on Sun, 10/24/2010 -22:37
This is reminiscent of Johan Huizinga’s objections to the translation of the subtitle to his book HOMO LUDENS. His initial subtitle was “The Play Element of Culture,” however, this was repeatedly corrected to “in” Culture. He wrote:
 
"...it was not my object to define the place of play among all other manifestations of culture, but rather to ascertain how far culture itself bears the character of play."
 
Huizinga didn’t win his argument, the “in” culture version remained. We have a long way to go before our society is no longer at odds with the phenomenon of “play.”
 
#3 “Game Changer”
Submitted by Lanier Graham, former curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York on Tues, 9/12/2011 – 14:22.
“The very first objects sold by MoMA were PlayArt objects, my chess set and Betty Thomson’s Multiplications. This was historic and a real game-changer. Now many museums sell objects. Before that, all museums sold only books, cards, and posters.”
 
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Brian Sutton-Smith  |  Our Playful Culture  |  Museum Animation  |  PlayArt’s Cool Factor  |  Culture and Play in the Emirates

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