Connected \\ November 22, 2017

Let’s play!

Opening in February, PlayTime is the first major thematic exhibition celebrating the role of play in contemporary art and culture.

Music Credit: Green North by DKSTR [CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US]

PlayTime on pem.org — launched in September — allows us to reach beyond the museum’s walls and engage with a global community of users. It jumpstarts the conversation: how is play changing our lives? In advance of the exhibition, we’re exploring the shifting role of play in art and culture with leading writers, thinkers, game designers, poets, artists—and you.

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The exhibition features 40 works by 20 leading contemporary artists—including large-scale installations, sculpture, photographs, video, and tactile interactives—and examines how play catalyzes creative expression, enchants the ordinary and helps us understand ourselves in new ways.

Play is important. While it seems unserious, it is at the root of creativity and human empowerment
— Trevor Smith, Curator of the Present Tense and curator of this exhibition

As chief of curatorial affairs and project lead, Kathy Fredrickson shares her excitement. “PlayTime has given us the opportunity to collaborate in new ways here at the museum and in doing so, to explore new ways of creating and sharing content. With this prototype, we can create opportunities for constructive dialogue and interaction, and offer broader, deeper and more diverse content than art museums usually provide to their audiences.”

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Nick Cave, still and detail from Bunny Boy, 2012, video (approximately 14 minutes). Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Visit playtime.pem.org and the PlayTime Instagram for updates throughout the run of the exhibition. A few recent features to check out include:

In addition, we present the first video in our ongoing series Dispatches from the Field. Tune in and join PEM as we head out on the road to see the places and meet the players who make up the state of play today.

Videos on playtime.pem.org will also include interviews with artists and thought leaders, as well as creative responses from artists and contributors to the PlayTime manifesto

The project has taken teamwork, for sure. A diverse group of curators, editors, interpreters, media producers and marketing specialists weigh in below on the idea of play and what they’re learning from this project:


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Gwen Smith, from the series The Enigma of Yoda, 2002–18, sixteen inkjet printed photographs. Courtesy of the artist.


“It’s about taking risks and being vulnerable,” says Lydia Gordon, assistant curator for exhibitions and research. “It involves a letting go of preconceived notions or boundaries, and allowing oneself to be open to new possibilities, enjoyments, failures and risks.”

Play is something so fundamental to humanity that we play every day—joking with friends, playing video games, or competing in sports—or even creatively using emojis! But it also builds and displays intelligence, develops knowledge of self and others and so much more.
— Melissa Woods, communication specialist

Chip Van Dyke, manager of media production, explains his role of bringing multimedia to the initiative, “Like with every project at PEM, I appreciate PlayTime because I get to both learn about and build the experiences that will help other people explore this topic.” 

Liz Gardner, interpretive planner, explains how her role is to think about the experience: 

From my experiences working with visitors, I’ve often observed that people still feel uneasy playing in museums. They have been trained that the only acceptable behaviors in a museum are to look, not touch, and be quiet. My hope is that PlayTime turns this notion on its head—and demonstrates that museums can be playful, lively, noisy, joyous spaces, too!


Smith adds, “I appreciate that PEM is dedicated to providing people with opportunities to engage with the power of creativity and to understand how it might work in their own life. To understand that we begin to find our place in the world through play is something that is powerful and fundamental.”

We invite readers to play along, too: what is play to you? Share your impressions with us on social media using #PEMplaytime. Check in early and often to play along with us—discover new writing on games and society, hear the artists talk about what play means to them, see our curators in action as we prepare for the exhibition, and learn how deeply and broadly play has permeated our culture.

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