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The twenty-first century will be the century of play
Brian Sutton-Smith
Rebuttal of Wikipedia

The arbitrary deletion of the PlayArt entry from Wikipedia in 2009 was determined by a number of anonymous volunteers whose credentials were by no means readily detectible and consequently questionable. These censors uniformly and stubbornly defended various outdated views (“I remain unconvinced.” - A typical response of opinionated individuals) that clearly betrayed a deplorable ignorance of our present culture. Regrettably, Wikipedia’s approach was uninformed and arrogant. The primary argument was, in fact, that the art form does not exist. In light of their stated explanations, it is blatantly meritless and utterly unwarranted. An author who suggested deletion argued: “Without secondary sources referencing this movement, and I can find none, this is a non-starter.”

After MoMA started publishing and selling PlayArt objects in 1969 on a continuous basis, listing on average annually two to five new objects in their catalogues and in the media, Wikipedia had the unequaled audacity 40 years later to claim that all this artistic output does not exist? The MoMA curator, Lanier Graham wrote:

“The very first objects sold by MoMA were PlayArt objects, my chess set and Betty Thomson’s Multiplications. This was historic and a real game-changer. Now many museums sell objects. Before that, all museums sold only books, cards, and posters.”

MoMA Internet page.
Chess Set by Lanier Graham
MoMA Internet page.
Chess Set by Lanier Graham
MoMA image.
Multiplications by Betty Thompson (1969)
by Betty Thompson (1969)

Triangulations by Ernst Lurker (1970)
MoMA catalogue cover (1989 – 90)
Zolo by Byron Glaser and Sandra Higashi (1987)
MoMA Internet page
Modulon by Jo Niemeyer (1984)
MoMA Internet page
Magnetude by Ernst Lurker
Magnetude by Ernst Lurker


This was a tectonic shift in the museum world that changed the business practices of museums globally. Such objects are now being sold by the thousands (obviously not only PlayArt). My own commission, Triangulations, followed immediately after these groundbreaking innovations in 1970. During this time, Lanier Graham even contemplated a PlayArt exhibition for MoMA before he was promoted and moved to Australia. MoMA now seems to be the source of the millions of PlayArt appropriations on the Internet.

Only two years later, in 1972, after these radical changes at MoMA, the Munich Olympics took place under the cultural umbrella of PlayArt, as an integration of art and sports activities. The founder of the concept wrote:

“The fact that within this framework, PlayArt as a new art form, could be employed was a very pleasant surprise for our team. The objectives of the two concepts could not have been more closely intertwined. Obviously, the public played and participated with enthusiasm.” 


Munich Olympics 1972

TinkerLinks by Ernst Lurker (one of many PlayArt activities during the games).

They included numerous forms of PlayArt, such as games, inflatables, improvisations, light, pantomimes, sound and music, etc.)


In 1995 the city of Berlin made the commitment to create a PlayArt Museum with more than 1,000 artists on the program. The director of the Culture Projects Berlin GmbH, Jochen Boberg, wrote:

The merging of art and play seemed to me future oriented for a metropolis on the move…

After the endorsement by the Working Committee for Culture and Tourism of the Berlin Senate, … The project was launched.

No better venue for the location of a groundbreaking and future oriented Museum of PlayArt was thinkable. Unfortunately, funding for the project had been suspended after the most recent global financial crisis.

In 1999, Joerg Schulze became the first professor for PlayArt in St. Petersburg, Russia. Ten years later, the Wikipedia still maintains that the art form does not exist. Another stupefying example of Wikipedia's inattention. 

The galleries that featured PlayArt, primarily in Europe and Japan, were too numerous to count. Still, the Wikipedia “experts” denied the existence of the movement. An historical blunder of gigantic and scandalous proportions.  

The question arises: where did they look? – Only an outdated public library could have furnished such dismal results. After the deletion, I did a quick Google search and received 415,000 results. (Today the number is 720,000.) On page 1, I found 7 examples that I copied (see images), after which I abandoned this tedious and unnecessary process. I never established the exact figure of additional sources, but I estimate that they numbered at least 20 to 30.

Website of Art Portal International featuring
István Harasztÿ (Budapest) with his bio and his kinetic machines. He "labels his artistic outcome as Play Art." (emphasis mine)
Additional page of István Harasztÿ (2008).
2009 Budapest Spring Festival announcing the 2nd Play Art Exhibition of contemporary Hungarian artists.
Featured gallery: Vizivárosi Gallery, Budapest.

Website of the Budapest Spring Festival
featuring the Vizivárosi Gallery and "Play Art".
Website of KULTURA.HU
featuring the Vizivárosi Play Art Gallery.
Website of Cultural Portal
featuring the Vizivárosi Play Art Gallery.
Website of the Art Portal announcing an exhibition of seven artists (Play Art, paintings, sculptures, graphics) at the Gallery Vizivárosi.

(Since Art Portal and Budapest start with “A” and “B” at the beginning of the alphabet, the emphasis appears to be at the alphabetical beginning.)

Generally, depicting entire Websites is not customary on the Internet, consequently, the effort was abandoned.


In spite of the plethora of secondary sources, the deletion process moved forward:

“Nice idea, but it’s based entirely on the PlayArt website.” (Entirely inaccurate!)

An additional author picked up on the large number of Google hits and called them “irrelevant.” He continued with: “A tiny, tiny number actually refer to the movement.” So, where does Wikipedia stand regarding the sources? One author “can find none,” another only “a tiny, tiny number”. In fact, it is obvious and acknowledged that most of the PlayArt search results are appropriations. This rare and unusual phenomenon is illuminated in the essay PlayArt’s Cool Factor ( And why should a small number of artists be detrimental for a new art form? Dada or the Pointillists certainly never had more members than PlayArt, especially after MoMA’s curator, Lanier Graham, immediately claimed an impressive number of PlayArt pioneers such as Alexander Calder, Lygia Clark, Yaavoc Agam and many more. In addition, many art forms are in constant flux and interchangeably overlap with other styles, such as Action Painting (also known as “Gestural Abstraction” or “Abstract Expressionism”), Kinetic Art (based on movement, not only real but also illusionistic), Constructivism and the list goes on. Art forms that have strong connections and similarities to PlayArt are Performance Art, Happenings, Fluxus, Environments, Activities and Conceptual Art. Allan Kaprow (1927 - 2006), a pioneer in establishing Performance Art and Happenings, maintained:

A Happening is a game, an adventure, a number of activities engaged in by participants for the sake of playing.

There is a significant number of historical examples that make the dismissal of play in the context of art outrageously uninformed.

Southampton Parade (1966) by Allan Kaprow.
Activity of Performance Art by Allan Kaprow
Fluids at Angels Gate, Cultural Center, Happening by Allan Kaprow
18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959, New York) by Allan Kaprow
Work No. 370 Balls, 2004, London
by Martin Creed
Pole Dance at the courtyard of MoMA PS1
by Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu

In this regard, a counterproductive argument against PlayArt was posted by another Wikipedia volunteer, he maintained: “We play music and we do art work.” This kind of thinking is completely outdated. Alexander Calder and his audience did not “do” his Circus, they played with it. The same holds true for all the puzzle sculptures and all the euphemistically called “interactive” art. This attitude is literally dangerous since it suppresses creative thinking and innovation. There are countless quotes on the PlayArt Website that address this topic, from Albert Einstein to Carl Gustav Jung. One of the lesser-known statements is by the famous playwright Nagle Jackson:

“The truly great advances of this generation will be made by those who can make outrageous connections, and only a mind which knows how to play can do that.”

Such quotes make it more than obvious that contrary thinking to play and PlayArt is simply no longer acceptable.

Another counter argument was: The Flemming book link you posted doesn’t mention PlayArt. – Here we have two serious errors:

  1. Prof. Dr. Hanns Theodor Flemming, who taught art history at the art academy in Hamburg, is not the author of the book, Ernst Lurker is. Flemming wrote the preface, with the title Ernst Lurker’s “PlayArt” – an Art to Inspire Play.
  2. The book itself has the title PlayArt and Creativity (1985).

Book by Ernst Lurker,
published by Bayer AG, Germany in 1985.

As early as 1938, Johan Huizinga published his book HOMO LUDENS where he maintains that all of culture is play.

Civilization arises and unfolds in and as play...
Culture itself bears the character of play.

This book became the seed for the academic discipline of Play Research. Thousands of scientists around the globe subsequently wrote an insurmountable number of books on the subject of play and filled entire libraries. We have Play Institutes and Play Museums galore. It is obvious that an intelligent segment of the public and artists has read these books and became influenced by these academic advances.

When I have communicated with representatives of such cultural institutions, in contrast to the Wikipedia debacle, I frequently encountered an attitude of joyful recognition. Brian Sutton-Smith, a play theorist, who alone wrote 50 books on the subject of play, wrote a letter which he began with: “I write in support of your PlayArt concept…” and he culminated with the sentence: “There is a real genius in this proposal.”

Over time, there were close to ten cities where PlayArt gained various levels of interest, either in terms of an exhibition or a museum. (Munich offered three building sites; Stuttgart, Vienna, Budapest and Hannover were negotiating with an art management team.) Eventually, Berlin took the lead with a solid commitment and funding for a Museum of PlayArt in 1995. The partners in all these cultural projects regarded the appearance of PlayArt as virtually inevitable, and they were excited about their involvement in this cultural vanguard. When I mentioned the Berlin museum in the Wikipedia proposal, the haughty response was: “Do you have any sources on the museum; we can’t just take your word for it.”  Yes, I do have sources, but they are not suitable for publication in Wikipedia (such as inspections of three building sites, with images and maps, etc.) The accusing comment certainly appears to be inappropriate.

One of the earliest members and a leader of the PlayArt movement was Miguel Berrocal (1933-2006). Throughout his entire career, he created intricate and complex puzzle sculptures. He maintained: “Play is the key to my work.” What else would it be when you take these sculptures apart and reassemble them again? Obviously, it is play, and his artwork is PlayArt. In a letter of 1989 he wrote about our developments: “I look forward to participating in this important cultural event.”

The Wikipedia people irresponsibly invalidated this sculptor’s work of a lifetime. Unfortunately, he is only one example of more than 1,000 artists. This is clearly an inept misjudgment of a cultural development of enormous proportions. During his later years, Leo Castelli was the art dealer No. 1. He wrote:

“PlayArt has the makings of an important movement and it promises to have a significant impact on our society.”

That the Wikipedia attempted to put brakes on the progress of our culture is utterly presumptuous. In fact, they tried to shut down the communication and carve their backward opinions in stone. The initial exchanges happened on a single Internet page that was open for contributions by anyone. But suddenly and suspiciously, like an attempt to silence everybody, the sentence: Please do not modify it  appeared in bold type and red ink out of the blue. The red ink did not intimidate me, as I know from experience that negative opinions about play or PlayArt are deeply engrained in the minds of individuals who virtually abhor these cultural manifestations. In fact, they get aggressively angry when their opinions are challenged. Thus, the founder and director of the National Institute for Play, Stuart Brown MD, was accused of being a hippie, after he had given a presentation of the institute’s purpose. The opponents of play virtually suffer from a sort of phobia, in essence a pathological condition. (See the essay Ludophobia). I am in no way equipped to deal with pathological instances. At any rate, a thousand pictures cannot convince such narrow-minded people.

Before the turn of the century, Brian Sutton-Smith had predicted that, “The 21st century will be the century of play.”  Therefore, in my judgement, PlayArt is the defining art form of the century. Other crucial influences on our culture are the advances of our technology. They provide creative possibilities that simply did not exist in previous times. While much of this progress stimulates our economy in general, it also creates an unprecedented amount of free time. It is generally used for play that is also boosted enormously by our technology. The flourishing leisure industry has grown into an industry of hundreds of billions in revenue, with video games, another form of PlayArt, in the lead. A single video game took in $1 billion on the first day of sales, making it the biggest launch in the entertainment industry ever (Daily News, 11/6/2013). Such intensive absorption in play has never existed in our history. Many art experts consider these developments to be a serious and problematic setback, but we must not forget that MoMA bought 14 video games for its permanent collection. The Smithsonian produced an exhibition with the title The Art of Video Games.

These games are only one segment of the enormous expansion of our play culture. Again, the possibilities in this area have multiplied exponentially. And who is to say that events such as air shows should not also be a form of PlayArt. They are clearly a form of play and the aesthetics can compete with any art form. Admittedly, they are organized by the military, navy or the air force, but it is not warfare but entertainment and obviously their advanced equipment also makes them more creative and playful.

Chinese Air Show, 2014
Air Show
Blue Angels, flight team of the US Navy
Air Show in Bahrain (they call it "art in the sky")
Air Show
The aerobatic team of the Italian Aeronautica Militare
(showing the color trails of the Italian flag)
Air Show


Finally, as a coup de grâce, we need to examine the outlandish discrepancy between the Google results in the hundreds of thousands, which were evaluated as “irrelevant” and the single entry of PlayArt in Wikipedia. What on earth could be so enormously superior to the immense number of Google results to prevail as the single remaining winner? As ludicrous as it may sound, it turns out to be a defunct toy company in Hong Kong that manufactured die-cast model cars from 1965 to 1983. Obviously, the name itself is an appropriation as it appeared three years after the original and its connection to any kind of art form is simply non-existent. However, Wikipedia validated it as the only permissible entry. Even Disney, a 140 billion dollar company that also appropriated the PlayArt name for Mickey Mouse, could not defy the toy maker. In my estimation, this whole matter represents extreme absurdity and utter nonsense.

 At any rate, the backwards Wikipedia missed the mark by gigantic proportions and their desperate attempt to uphold an extreme and unacceptable position in a cultural domain, is beyond belief. Such unprofessional conduct cannot be taken seriously under any circumstances. These “experts” may bemoan or even deny our recent developments, but ultimately, they cannot stop progress no matter how much they resist.

Ernst Lurker


Brian Sutton-Smith  |  Our Playful Culture  |  Museum Animation  |  PlayArt’s Cool Factor  |  Culture and Play in the Emirates

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