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Digital Art Copyism: Re-creating Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds

Jonathan Dahan, Former Media Technology Developer, Digital Media

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2014

Super Mario Clouds

Instagram of Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds at the Metropolitan Museum

«In late 2012, the Metropolitan Museum held an exhibition called Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years, which included a ton of interesting contemporary pieces such as Ai Weiwei's Neolithic Vase with Coca-Cola Logo (2010) and Andy Warhol's Silver Clouds (1966). The piece I was happiest and most surprised to see, however, was Cory Arcangel's Super Mario Clouds (2002). To create this piece, Cory modified an original Super Mario Bros. video game to remove everything but the background and clouds.»

Many museums, including the Metropolitan, have art copyist programs in which artists can set up an easel and paints and re-create masterpieces in the galleries. Copying existing works of art is a common exercise in most artistic apprenticeships because it allows you to learn by doing, no matter your experience level. In this spirit, I set out to learn more about Cory's piece, and when I came across his instructions for how to re-create it, I knew I had to make one myself. It took a few weeks, but eventually I learned enough to have my very own copy!

Instagram video of Clouds (2014) by Jonathan Dahan

What started as an "I want to make one!" project led me to the types of questions that concern conservators, curators, and educators every day. Where does the art live (on the screen, in the cartridge, in the code, or somewhere else)? How can we continue exhibiting the piece in the future since Nintendo no longer produces the materials to make it? What context do we need to provide for those who have never played Super Mario Bros.? In the process of gathering materials and information to create my version, I stumbled upon some interesting things that I hadn't anticipated: people on online forums getting upset that original cartridges were being destroyed or irreparably modified, game developers who are still releasing new games for the original Nintendo system, an excellent essay by Molly Shea on the importance of Super Mario Clouds, and best of all, discussion threads on major video game news sites in which gamers and artists from around the world talk about preservation, re-presentation, and aura. (If anyone knows how to contact Molly Shea, please let me know so I can thank her for her essay!)

In my next post, I'll attempt to answer some of the questions mentioned above and show how you can make your own copy of the piece. Of course, if you are interested in making a copy at the Media Lab here at the Metropolitan, feel free to drop me a line. I am also building a workshop around Super Mario Clouds, so if you have topics or questions that you'd like me to cover or want to be know when dates are announced, please message me at @jedahan.

Related Link
Fun and in-depth description of Cory's Super Mario Clouds (plus activities!) on the Whitney Museum's Whitney Kids page

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About the Author

Jonathan Dahan was formerly a media technology developer in the Digital Media Department.

About this Blog

The Digital Media Department leads the creation, production, presentation, and dissemination of multimedia content to support the viewing and understanding of the Met's collection and exhibitions, both within the galleries and online. This blog discusses a few of the activities of the department, and invites your questions and comments about the Museum's digital initiatives.


Above: Jim Campbell (American, born 1956). Motion and Rest #2 (detail), 2002. Light-emitting-diodes (LED) and custom electronics. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Henry Nias Foundation Inc. Gift, 2004 (2004.105). © Jim Campbell