How many Caravaggios are too many? I’ve got almost 30 on the walls of my gallery and it’s all looking a little sombre. I tried to brighten the place up with a few dozen Van Goghs atop my baroque staircase, but now my space lacks cohesion. I’m forced to admit that, given infinite space and funds to create a virtual art gallery in Occupy White Walls, I have let all good taste fly out the window. My gallery is irredeemably garish. I might need to start over.
I decide to seek inspiration in other players’ creations. Like me, they have chosen from thousands of architectural assets to build a gallery and then filled it with some of the game’s 30,000 real artworks, which include pieces from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s National Gallery.
It is a foundational law of gaming that given a creative sandbox, players will create worlds that variously exceed all reasonable standards of beauty, humour, imagination, immaturity and stomach-clenching ugliness. There’s an art gallery designed to resemble the periodic table and another based on Alice in Wonderland, where you admire art while falling down a rabbit hole. There’s also a model of a Stasi interrogation chamber and a gallerist who attempts to retell the entire story of Star Wars using fine art.
Each gallery tells the story of its curator through their arrangement of architecture and artworks, says the game’s creator Yarden Yaroshevski. “Our biggest learning is that people’s taste in art is as unique as a fingerprint,” he tells me over the video interview, “and we have the data to prove it.”
Yaroshevski left his home town of Jerusalem 20 years ago, and now lives in north London. Under tortoiseshell glasses and flyaway hair, he gesticulates wildly as he expounds on one of his many strong opinions from him. After dabbling in media and tech, he dreamt up Occupy White Walls as a solution to what he views as the elitism and inaccessibility of the art world. “It’s a crime of the art world to put artworks at arm’s length so you have to go to a museum and have them explained to you. We’re telling people you can go out and make art your own.”
Players can do this by exploring a huge array of art in Occupy White Walls from home. They can zoom into any piece and read information about the artist. They can also consult the game’s AI art discovery tool, which tracks their actions and suggests other works they might enjoy or purchase for their galleries. Users can browse and comment on the works, which are also displayed on the website Kultura, a sister project which is designed for people who want to try the art discovery tool without the video game traps. It’s all part of a planned art-game ecosystem which will expand to include an app and a casual mobile game.
Anyone can upload their own art to the game for a $7 fee, meaning Occupy White Walls has also become a platform for aspiring artists to gain an audience. Rosa Francesca, a 29-year-old digital artist from Leamington Spa, has never sold work or exhibited in a museum, yet whole virtual galleries have been devoted to her horror-influenced female figures in the game.
“It’s really crazy when I’m browsing the game and I see my art on someone’s wall,” she says. “All you want as an artist is for someone to feel something, and it’s so easy to see in this game that somebody really has.”
Yaroshevski argues that these virtual galleries are in many ways superior to their real-life counterparts. Their wall space is unlimited, they are accessible from anywhere and they can be customized to suit each visitor’s taste rather than imposing traditional notions of an artistic canon. While some of his arguments in our conversation fly by unsubstantiated and the game itself still has a few glitches, the world of virtual art could certainly use an evangelist with this much zeal.
“We want to be the final basic destination for all art ever created, of the past and future, to receive the next century’s Van Gogh,” he says. “The art market people say there are only 20,000 real collectors in the world, but I believe we’re going to have 500mn people on this platform, each with an art collection the size of Tate Britain, regardless of their age, wealth, geography — whatever. And the world will be a better place because of that.”
Despite the grandstanding, I feel inspired. I scuttle back to my gallery, firm in my newfound conviction: you can never have too many Caravaggios.
‘Occupy White Walls’ is now available free on Steam for PC