Having raked in billions in revenue and signed up some 350 million users since its arrival in 2017, Fortnite has achieved that rare feat for a video game: it’s landed square in the heart of pop culture. The Epic Games product has seen celebrity participation, Twitch love, and some high-profile crossovers that have made it familiar to gamers and non-gamers alike — and with its Creative mode, an attractive platform for creators and cultural organizations.
Fortnite Creative, the sandbox version of the game that allows players to design and build their own environments, is where you might find user recreations of Castle Black and the Millennium Falcon. But it’s also where Manchester’s The Factory has unveiled a virtual project and TIME Magazine staged its 2021 March Through Time event. And this week, Serpentine Galleries joins the fray to become the first institution to recreate an exhibition on Fortnite Creative.
On Tuesday, KAWS: NEW FICTION, the street artist’s first major solo show in London, opened at the Serpentine North Gallery. Or kind of: the exhibition does feature KAWS’ vibrant canvases, but also, his augmented reality (AR) sculptures that are exclusively accessible on the Acute Art app, with whom KAWS has been collaborating since 2020. Visitors can view new location-specific works by pointing the app’s camera at the empty plinths within the gallery, or remotely by using the app at home.
The in-person exhibition will have a virtual counterpart on Fortnite Creative, which the Serpentine and KAWS developed alongside the BeyondCreative and Alliance Studios. Until January 25, players entering the KAWS & Serpentine Hub (island code 9562-7830-4159) can interact with the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and AR works, and explore the recreated Serpentine gardens. The project marks KAWS’ second entry into Fortnite, following up on his Halloween 2021 release of a Skeleton Companion skin on the gaming platform.
Why it matters
Serpentine is ensuring maximum viewership for NEW FICTION by staging the exhibition as a hybrid presentation across multiple platforms. Acute Art has long demonstrated the versatility and adaptability of its digital gallery model, which has been tapped by other cultural venues including The Shed to engage both in-person and remote audiences, while Fortnite promises an audience of millions.
In fact, for cultural organizations seeking out ways to virtualize their venue or programs, Fortnite Creative could very well represent fertile ground. Its sizable user base aside, the sandbox, like Minecraft before it, presents museums with a channel through which to enter the metaverse and cultivate new demographics. The relationship between cultural institutions and the gaming sector, after all, is only set to grow closer.
What the partners said
“This multi-dimensional project, accessible through virtual and physical portals, demonstrates the remarkable synergies between gaming, space, and sensorial experience.” — Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, and Bettina Korek, CEO, Serpentine
“Art and creative culture inspire our players on a daily basis, and we’re thrilled that this partnership will bring the work of KAWS to an even more diverse global audience. This is a space we plan to continue to invest in over the coming years.” — Nate Nanzer, VP of Global Partnerships, Epic Games
“This is an incredibly exciting project for me. I always like exploring new mediums for my art. The collaboration with Fortnite means everything is coming together in a complex exhibition that takes place in parallel realities.” — KAWS, artist