When London’s Serpentine Gallery launches “New Fiction,” its newest exhibit with American artist KAWS (Brian Donnelly), it will be open to millions more people than can fit through the doors of its Kensington Gardens location. The show is launching on Monday simultaneously within Fortnite, as an almost-exact replica of the London experience, inviting the phenomenally popular game’s 400 million players to experience it for themselves.
“It’s a real 1-1 exhibition, in a classic museum space, where the paintings and sculptures are hanging and positioned in a particular way, and that’s exactly how it was made in Fortnite,” says KAWS. “For a lot of teenagers, it may be their first time at a museum art show, and I think there’s a great opportunity to provide that in an area—Fortnite—that they’re so familiar with. I remember being younger, I found galleries intimidating, but here this is in your territory. And it’s exciting that this has never been done.”
Players can access the Fortnite Serpentine Gallery in the game’s creative mode, where an exact replica has been built, with KAWS’ works positioned and set up just as they are in the in-real-life gallery. The exhibit launches today.
For Epic, it’s just the game’s latest foray into an expanded cultural footprint. Fortnite‘s Travis Scott concert in 2020 had more than 27.7 million players participate in the in-game event live. Last year, Verizon built a version of Tampa’s Raymond James stadium for the Super Bowl that attracted 40 million visitors.
Epic Games’ partnerships director, Kevin Durkin, says Fortnite is a social entertainment destination for millions of players, and the company sees art as an obvious extension of the cultural collaborations the game has done in music and sports; it was just a matter of finding the right timing and the right partner. “Art itself is a huge part of culture, and we really wanted to help democratize access to it, and galleries like the Serpentine,” says Durkin. “But we also really wanted to bring KAWS to more of the world.”
KAWS may be the perfect artist for Fortnite to launch its first museum art exhibit with. His work has long been a brand unto itself, whether through his own toys and prints or via a laundry list of brand collaborations, from Uniqlo, Nike, and Commes des Garcons to Sesame Street, Peanuts, and Bape. Just last week, The North Face unveiled its own KAWS collection. Epic Games, meanwhile, has become a collaboration giant, whether it’s integrating characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Dune, and DC, fashion brands like Balenciaga and Moncler, or brand-partner-happy music artists like McDonald’s meal creator Travis Scott.
It’s not the first time the two have worked together. Last fall, KAWS created a collection of skins (playable Fortnite characters) for the game’s “Fortnitemares” Halloween promotion. That laid the groundwork between them, and the idea for a museum exhibit collaboration came together quickly after.
For KAWS, the biggest challenge was planning and locking in how his Serpentine exhibition would look and feel so far ahead of time. “Usually if I’m doing a museum show, I have a Styrofoam model in my studio and work with that, then when I show up in person things get moved, just because of the feeling for the physical space,” says KAWS. “But here we really had to focus and understand the layout in order to do it all in advance to create it digitally. It’s really amazing.”
Durkin says that from a tactical perspective, it really pushed Epic’s design and 3D modeling teams, the third-party creators it works with like Alliance Studios and Beyond Creative, KAWS, and the Serpentine, to figure out how to bring it to life. “We all had to work together to make sure that the quality and fidelity of those sculptures and pieces of work is as high as possible,” says Durkin.
Fortnite is hoping this exhibit illustrates to others the art possibilities of its platform. “Our creative tools for building and publishing experiences to this global audience are open to anyone, so we hope that this inspires and gets people excited so other artists and creatives invest and build more of these experiences,” says Durkin.
KAWS hopes this and other digital art experiments aren’t seen as some metaverse move to replace live art experiences, but as a complement. “I think the capabilities available now really makes the experience true,” he says. “I always tend to approach things with skepticism, but seeing how true it can be I think it’s just an additional way to experience art.”