Above: Screenshot from Mark Schoening's "The Red Tulip Glitch Memorial" at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kittengale (MoCAK) in "Animal Crossing: New Horizons."
The Museum of Contemporary Art Kittengale only took a couple of days to create. There were no overhead costs like staff, rent, or art shipping.
That's because the space exists virtually, created by University of Minnesota first-year MFA painting student Julia Maiuri in “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” the Nintendo Switch social simulation game that allows you to hang out with friends online in a fantasy world.
Much like the life simulation game "Sims", "Animal Crossing" hosts avatars living virtual lives, doing normal things like chores, dating, and traveling. This new iteration of the game dropped on March 26, just in time for the massive lockdown.
It's become a big hit among people bored out of their skulls, but for Maiuri, it's become "an artistic outlet."
“I very quickly lost access to all of my art supplies, my studio space, so I kind of just gave in to the impulse to escape into this other world,” she said. “It was much more appealing than existing in this world.”
To make the museum, she simply added two art galleries to her charming, virtual, one-story cottage on the island of Kittengale that looks like something straight out of the Bavarian countryside.
Maiuri’s avatar, Joolz, a cartoonish version of the real-life her, is the spectacle-wearing curator of the museum.
Inside the red-walled gallery, visitors see two portraits of red tulips facing each other on opposite walls. On the third wall, white letters on a red background spell out “never again.” Rows of tulips appear inside the gallery and outside on the front lawn.
Schoening created the work in Photoshop, and then uploaded the work through acpatterns.com, which creates a QR code that the game can read.
The red tulips-gone-nuts are a nod to a glitch that occurred in the 2006 iteration of the game, “Animal Crossing: Wild World." It froze thousands of players, forcing them to remain isolated in their houses for months, away from one another.
His project draws comparisons to the current isolation, but he sees his show as an optimistic gesture.
“This terrible thing happened in this game 15 years ago but the game did go on and people could continue their active, task-based lives on these islands,” said Schoening, who actually has never played "Animal Crossing" before. “Even though we are in the state of quarantine, there is an optimism ahead of us.”
To visit the show in "Animal Crossing," visitors must request a dodo code from Maiuri. For those without the game, they can see installations of screenshots from the show on the museum’s Instagram account @moca.kittengale.
For Maiuri, the museum is a natural extension of themes she's been working on in her painting practice.
“I’m interested in doppelgängers and alternate realties, and this world embodies that in a lot of ways,” she said. “I’ve been lucky to stumble onto this.”
Schoening’s exhibition continues through April 29. The museum is also currently hosting Kristen Sanders’ exhibition “Strange Self,” a suite of 12 paintings of the body in pre-historic and futuristic moments. The museum has hosted six exhibitions, with programming plans already scheduled through the end of May.