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The Animal Crossing player goofing on the art world with wonderful, esoteric references

A rival museum is open for business

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Artist recreation of “The Artist Is Present” in Animal Crossing Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Shing Yin Khor is a real-life installation artist who’s seen an impact from the novel coronavirus on their work: All their events have been canceled for the foreseeable future, as many museums shut their doors to the public. Instead, they’re turning to Animal Crossing: New Horizons to poke fun at the art world, creating a rival art museum to Blather’s setup.

“I would certainly prefer to be an employed installation artist in real-life, and not in Animal Crossing, but all my gigs and events are currently cancelled,” Khor told Polygon via email. (We considered doing this interview in-game, but Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ text features are infuriating.) “I’m pretty sure I’m just using Animal Crossing as a space to goof off right now but the art world also has a lot of tree branches up their collective butts, so I am enjoying responding to and poking fun at it within this little game.”

Khor’s used rocks to recreate Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty on their island and put together an Animal Crossing interpretation of Barbara Kruger’s Untitled — “Your turnips are a battleground.” They scattered some umbrellas on the beach to imitate Christo and Jeanne Claude’s The Umbrellas, too. (Khor also noted they greatly respect and enjoy all the work they’re poking fun at.)

But one of Khor’s most interact pieces was a recreation of Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present.

“Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present is one of the most iconic pieces of endurance and performance art, and simple wooden tables and chairs are easy to craft, and it was a pretty obvious fit,” Khor said. “Thank goodness, she wore a plain red dress.”

Khor opened up their island on Tuesday and posted a Dodo Code on Twitter. Immediately, museum patrons started streaming in — a near constant stream of people coming and going for an hour. Khor sat and waited inside their house, wearing Abramović’s iconic red dress. They estimated around 20 visitors came to the island over the hour, with 15 or so people making it into the chair. Dodo Airlines flights came in nearly nonstop; people flying in and out. (Nintendo’s multiplayer system is infuriating — it takes so long to connect, especially if multiple people are coming.)

“It was probably not the smoothest experience, with Dodo Airlines flights coming in constantly and people leaving, but it probably replicated the effect of standing in line at a museum a little,” they said.

Khor said they’d like to do other performance pieces in Animal Crossing: New Horizons — after all, they’ve got to keep up the competition with Blathers’ museum. In the meantime, they’re working on recreating Chris Burden’s Urban Light — “It’s the selfie magnet in front of LACMA,” Khor said — by collecting streetlights.

“I really enjoy the limitations in Animal Crossing, and how there are significant restrictions on what you can build. It’s been a lot of fun thinking of things that could fit within these particular limits,” they said. “My actual installation work is very non-digital. I play a lot with physical mechanical objects like capsule machines, and I aesthetically reference cabinets of curiosities — lots of warm wood and incandescent lighting and lots of touchable textures and small detailed objects you can pick up and explore.”

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