If anybody ever criticizes you for wasting time playing video games, just tell them that you are busy mastering an art. A Los Angeles pop culture art gallery called Gallery 1988 (G1988) will be hosting its second “Old School Video Game Art Show” — Level 2, as its curators call it — starting Oct. 26.
G1988 has hosted several video game art shows since it opened nine years ago. The gallery has two locations in the city’s Venice and Melrose districts, and this exhibit will be held at G1988’s Venice gallery. Some of the artists work or have worked in the video game business.
Like most of the pop art in G1988, the old school video game series is supposed to make people nostalgic and remind them of the good old days when video games did not have as many advanced special effects as they do now. Think Sega Genesis and the 16-bit era.
“The truth is, I miss when it was just two buttons and simple and exciting,” said Jensen Karp, one of the show’s curators and a huge video game fan who had just finished a rousing game of NBA 2k13 before he talked to TIME. “We don’t really need to see a lot of Halo art; Halo itself is kind of a painting. We want to see how artists were inspired as children, from [Nintendo's] Hogan’s Alley and Kid Icarus to Frogger.”
For the most part, artists interpreted the games that had the most memorable main characters — like Nintendo’s Mario — and gave them a new twist based on their personal experiences playing them. Some of the games featured in the show include Joust and Mike Tyson’s Punch Out — which Karp said he was obsessed with growing up.
Ian Glaubinger’s “The Great Trophy Room” is an ode to PlayStation 3’s Trophies feature, which tracks of all of players’ conquests and milestones in the games — a testament to the artist’s own video game track record. Karp can relate: “I remember when I beat Super Mario Land on Gameboy, I think I told everyone,” he said.
Scott Scheidly’s “Mario Gets Bombed” depicts a three-headed Mario smoking a hookah on top of a mushroom.
Wait, Mario was a smoker?
“He saw mushrooms and flowers made him throw fire,” Karp reasoned. “Maybe we just underestimated where Mario was coming from. So naive.”
Video games can also be a family affair, as seen by Philip Tseng’s piece of an entertainment system that is made up of three parts: a child as the game console, a mother as the middle piece that brings everything together, and a father as the last piece. When he comes home from work, the system becomes one.
G1988 is a haven for artists who are not only influenced by the “masters like Picasso,” but also “Nintendo and Quentin Tarantino” and the 1980s in general. Karp jokes that if he had it his way nine years ago, he would have named it “The Anthony Michael Hall Gallery” after The Breakfast Club actor.
“We opened this gallery to make fun of these pompous galleries that try to sell a white canvas with a yellow dot on it for $50,000,” Karp said. “Not only do we see video games as art, but these artists who were kids when they were playing the games are now old enough to create their own video game worlds.”
Check out these 8 artworks and see if you can figure out which video games they are based on.
The exhibit runs until November 24.