DETROIT — The opening night of Play Room, an exhibition of kinetic and interactive sculptures by Detroit-based artist Andy Malone, had a slightly different vibe than the usual white-cube affair. Visitors gathered around tables to lay hands on Malone’s creations, and the air was filled with the playful chatter of children.
That’s because Malone’s work largely takes the form of didactic games, which deliver conceptual ideas as a sneaky side effect of playing with them. Even the promotional postcard for his show, cleverly designed as a hanging door tag, presents information on one side, and a game on the other.
“I love making games because they connect people and provide a point of entry for deeper understanding,” said Malone, in an email interview. “I also enjoy the aesthetics of a beautifully designed game component and an eloquent set of rules.”
Malone holds a degree in architecture, and works with the construction documents and technical planning for exhibits, museums, and retail environments. This background has not only helped him engineer his projects, but has also driven their concepts. This is crucial for works like “Quaturn Game” (2015), which challenges players to stack four wooden beads of the same color onto a rotating carriage of dowels, automated to suddenly shift position. The fast pace of the game and simultaneous play by four players abolishes what Malone describes as “analysis paralysis” and demands quick reflexes, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to switch focus.
Malone has absorbed some of his own teachings by being open to changing his games based on feedback. “All of my work is interactive,” he said. “I encourage the viewer not only to play the games, but also offer variations on the rules. Originally the rules stated that players competed to get four beads of the same color in a row. At a recent exhibition, someone suggested that players work together to achieve the most varied pattern (in other words, they would collaborate to create diversity). I really enjoyed watching those ideas evolve!”
Less physical, but more conceptual and endlessly challenging, is the board game “Ex Cross.” Along the back row of a modified checkerboard, players line up wooden game pieces, each engrained with an X on one side and a plus sign on the other. In three-movement turns, players navigate the board, trying to reach safety at the opposite end of the board. Each piece can at any time flip to alter its capacity to move. Malone used this game as an opportunity to discuss with his daughter, Julia — one of the leading experts at his games — the opposing philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those of Malcolm X. As Malone sees it, each of these civil rights leaders was locked into a singular kind of movement, but ultimately an individual has better options when able to think flexibly.
The role of family in Malone’s work could not have been clearer than at his opening at Collective — a joyful, intergenerational affair more akin to a busy game night than a stodgy art opening. Among the more popular works on display was a trio of “mutoscopes” — wooden boxes housing 1980s-style Rolodex reels that shuffle when activated to form repeating stop-motion animation reels. Everything about Malone’s work, attitude, and entourage encourages visitors to stop, connect, and play — and maybe even learn something, without noticing.
“If I can get a gallery of adults to act like a bunch of kids,” said Malone, “it’s a good night.”