Free Play

Free Play

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design

Jeanne van Heeswijk and Rolf Engelen, Draw a Line, 2000. Soil, plywood, metal butter knife, 5 x 5 meters. Courtesy of the artists.
September 17, 2016
Free Play

September 30–December 13, 2016

Opening: Thursday, September 29, 6–8pm

The New School
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery
2 West 13th Street
New York

What can games tell us about the serious things in life? See Free Play.
Free Play features work by artists who use games to expose social and philosophical issues

The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons School of Design at The New School presents Free Play, an exhibition exploring the work of artists who borrow from play and games to expose social, philosophical, and cultural issues. From playground antics to mathematical strategy, the artists in Free Play mine the significance of games, reinventing them to create experiences that often involve the viewer and reflect on the nature of participation in art and art exhibitions.

The exhibition features an arcade of objects, including a version of Guitar Hero by Cory Arcangel, hopscotch by Mary Flanagan, and for the more mystically inclined, a divining game by Allan McCollum and Matt Mullican. Other artists featured in Free Play are Yoko Ono, Ryan Gander, Patrick Bernier and Olive Martin, Ruth Catlow, Futurefarmers, Jeanne van Heeswijk and Rolf Engelen, Paul Noble, Pedro Reyes, Jason Rohrer, David Shrigley, and Erik Svedäng.

Free Play brings out the inner child in all of us,” said Melissa E. Feldman, curator of Free Play, “as well as the agitator, the free thinker, and the rule breaker, all starting with the encouragement to actually handle the art!”

Feldman noted that strategies tied to game playing have historically attracted avant-garde artists, most famously the chess master Marcel Duchamp. His every artistic move had his chess partner in mind: the viewer. Games were also intrinsic to the work of war-addled Surrealists and Dadaists, the inventors of the exquisite corpse and automatic drawing, in their quest to upend the bourgeois pretensions of art and free the artistic imagination. In the 1960s and 1970s, the countercultural and anti-war Fluxus group and the New Games Foundation questioned capitalism and corporate culture by staging massive non-competitive games in city parks.

“It’s an open invitation.” Said Radhika Subramaniam, Director/Chief Curator of the SJDC. “Come and play!”

Free Play is an exhibition curated by Melissa E. Feldman and organized by Independent Curators International (ICI), New York. Free Play was made possible, in part, by grants from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, and with the generous support from ICI’s International Forum and Board of Trustees.


Parsons School of Design is one of the leading institutions for art and design education in the world. Based in New York but active around the world, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the full spectrum of art and design disciplines, as well as online courses, degree and certificate programs. Critical thinking and collaboration are at the heart of a Parsons education. Parsons graduates are leaders in their respective fields, with a shared commitment to creatively and critically addressing the complexities of life in the 21st century.

Sheila C. Johnson Design Center is an award-winning campus center for Parsons School of Design that combines learning and public spaces with exhibition galleries to provide an important new downtown destination for art and design programming. The mission of the Center is to generate an active dialogue on the role of innovative art and design in responding to the contemporary world. Its programming encourages an interdisciplinary examination of possibility and process, linking the university to local and global debates. The center is named in honor of its primary benefactor, New School Trustee and Parsons Board of Governors Member Sheila C. Johnson. The design by Rice+Lipka Architects is the recipient of numerous awards, including an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.

Independent Curators International (ICI) produces exhibitions, events, publications, research and training opportunities for curators and diverse audiences around the world. Established in 1975, ICI is a unique organization that focuses on the role of the curator as a contextualizing force for contemporary art, and one that develops infrastructure for contemporary artists and art discourse in different contexts throughout the world. ICI connects emerging and established curators, artists, and art spaces, into collaborative networks that are relevant regionally and inscribed within an international framework.

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Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons The New School for Design
September 17, 2016

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