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"Frankly, it is ridiculous how little knowledge there is about this art and new digital art in general," he explained. "With this type of art it's like we're at where art photography was 20 years ago in the U.S., 15 years ago in Europe [the U.S. was quicker to embrace this]. We're actively looking for people and curators from the art world to comment and collaborate."
One of the more interesting yet very unfortunate, challenges facing the gallery is posed by the industry itself. Game-related projects are chosen primarily based on artistic or design merit and the desire of the creator to be involved, but legal hurdles are also an issue that have to be addressed, a process that's sometimes hampered by the short-sightedness of rights holders. "The games industry is not so good at curation or caring about its heritage," Brands said. "The hardest thing at the moment is trying to get some of the artwork from older titles, like LucasArts adventures, or other IP the [original] studio doesn't care about economically but that still has huge cultural value."
And before you get too wound up over the prospect of having an original Keita Takahashi hanging on your wall, be aware that subject matter notwithstanding and without putting too much of an "us and them" spin on it, Cook & Becker isn't hawking posters on eBay. It's very much a real art gallery, creating exhibit-worthy fine art and limited edition prints with lifetime guarantees, work which Brands compares to high-end art photography, and it ain't cheap. Jesse van Dijk's "After the Breaking of the World" lists for $4500, Sven Ruther's pixel art-inspired "CGA Faces" sits at $3350 and "Dark Riders" from Crysis concept artist Maciej Kuciara is a relative steal at $1500.
"We make artworks that easily last a generation, and only create museum-quality work," he said. "We want to have pieces that you would be proud to own and that have some exclusivity to them. Just in terms of material costs [prints, pigments, Dibond plating, museum glass, etc.] you're quickly running in the hundreds of dollars."
It's not all quite so horribly out of reach - Takahashi's limited-edition "Nice Hair" t-shirts can be had for 40 bucks plus taxes and such - and Brands said Cook & Becker is experimenting with different ways to makes its works as accessible as possible. "But what we offer will never become what I call merchandise, even though high-quality merchandise can become really expensive these days," he said. "There are other people doing that very successfully. We're really focused on art collectors looking for the next big thing."
So, are games art? I don't know. But maybe, through the efforts of Cook & Becker, more people in more places around the world will have the opportunity to witness the artistry offered by games and those who make them, and more conversations will be had, both by those who play them and those who do not. Conversation leads to contemplation, and contemplation to appreciation. And once we have that, well, just about anything is possible.
Andy Chalk can't draw a straight line to save his life.