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(based on 25 ratings)
About the Story
"The Hartman Gallery extends their invitation to an exhibition of Anatoly Domokov's "American Paintings." Who draws the line between art and life? HTML enhanced." [--blurb from Competition '99]
Language: English (en)
Current Version: 2.1
Development System: TADS 2
Baf's Guide ID: 311
Nominee, Best Writing; Nominee - Anatoly Domokov,, Best Individual NPC; Nominee - The wife, Best Individual PC - 1999 XYZZY Awards
5th Place - 5th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (1999)
Closer to static fiction than a game, but still a masterfully done work, Exhibition tells the story of an artist through four people--his wife, a critic, a boy, and a student--exploring the gallery where his paintings are hanging, shortly after he's committed suicide. You play all of the characters; you can switch back and forth between them whenever you want, and the way you go through the story--whether you view all of the paintings as one character before you go on to the next character, or view one painting as all four characters, or some combination--is likely to affect how you experience the story, since the various takes on the artist have very little in common. The writing is terrific; each of the characters has a distinctive voice, and what they say about the artist illuminates them as much as it does the artist. The major drawback, however, is that the interactivity aspect is minimal; there's very little to do other than look at each painting through each set of eyes, meaning that the story doesn't really have any sort of pace; if the player finds the whole thing somewhat distancing, as some have, that may be why. Still, it's an intriguing experiment. There's background music as well--Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," natch--though some have elected to turn it off, since it does get repetitive after a while.
-- Duncan Stevens
[...] the depth of characterization is highly unusual for IF, and it struck me along the way that I would find it genuinely entrancing if I sensed that understanding the character would somehow lead me to understand something, accomplish something--even within the game. Exhibition, in other words, may be significant more for what it could lead to--development of a particular character in order to move a story--than for the story it actually tells, where the trials and tribulations of the artist are the plot.
-- Duncan Stevens
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>INVENTORY - Paul O'Brian writes about interactive fiction
Exhibition is a game of absences. It has no plot. It also has no puzzles, at least not in the way we're used to thinking about puzzles. There are no takeable objects whatsoever in the game, and most of the action consists of standing around examining things. What it does not lack, however, is quality. It's a masterwork of storytelling, creating a spellbinding narrative from spaces inbetween. I loved it.
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Number of Reviews: 3
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The setting is the final exhibition of the artist Anatoly Domokov, following his suicide. You select one of four characters attending the exhibit and can switch between them at any time. While the game consists mainly of examining the environment and artwork, each character has an individual perspective and a role to play. Some knew the artist intimately, some academically, some not at all. The player has the agency to choose how they learn about the artist’s story.
Exhibition is the type of game that might be called plot-less or not interactive. There is a story, we’re just starting at the end and working our way back through recollections. Additionally, each character has their own personal story: why they’re here, what they hope to gain from the event, and what their conclusions are afterwards. I found it compelling to switch between views, putting the information together to come to my own conclusions.
If there’s a drawback it’s that (Spoiler - click to show)some characters actually are more relevant than others. I happened to choose the Boy to play first, and his perspective seemed to be the full story; exploring the other characters after that felt kind of pointless. So, it’s possible to accidentally stumble onto knowing too much before exploring all the characters.
A final note: the music files (played by the author) are the variations of Promenade from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition suite. I wish this had been explained a little more in the credits, because it’s an interesting tie-in to the game’s inspiration.
This game has no puzzles whatsoever, which is not necessarily a drawback. Games like Galatea and Aisle have shown that such things can be done effectively.
The game consists of an art gallery where four different characters can view 12 different paintings. Each person has a different take on the painting, and often you can discover the 'true meaning' of a painting from one character and not the other.
The game shows how art is partly the author and partly the viewer, and how the viewer creates art as it observes it. In this respect, it reminds me a lot of "Creatures such as we" by Lynnea Glasser.
I didn't enjoy the genre of the tale, though. It has the breathy, shocking, Schadenfreude feeling that's so popular. Books like the Kite Runner or Mudbound or other books where the characters have horrible or depressing secrets and it all comes together to a kind of gritty 'determination to live despite all' don't entice me. The story did not move me, which I found disappointing, considering that I'm a big fan of Ian Finley's work.
I loved this one when I was younger. The first time I played it, years ago, I think I cried. But playing it again, it's much worse than I remember. It's odd how time can reverse your opinions.
The concept: Russian-American artist commits suicide. You learn about his life through the eyes of four different people visiting a posthumous exhibition of his paintings. Creative idea, unique and meta.
But the writing simply isn't good enough to produce the effect the author wanted to achieve. I found the character voices flat and one-dimensional. At times they degenerate into stereotypes. The college student was my least favorite. I remember even in my original playthrough, I was annoyed by her unjustified hatred of the artist, Russians, and men in general. She's a straw feminist, who despite being a humanities major (all the humanities majors I know are extremely passionate about their field of study) demonstrates no appreciation for art or her university education. I found her character shallow. "Boomer caricacture of SJW college student" shallow.
The other characters are similar. Of course the art critic is snooty and pretentious, of course the wife is a meek simple country woman. Even the paintings themselves don't grab me, maybe because the mediocre writing makes for mediocre mental images. And the metaphors are basic. The artist was going through Hell, so he painted Hell, look at these pictures of Orpheus and so on. The artist had a difficult relationship with religion, so here's a painting of a church covered in insects. His last painting, of a noose, was found on his easel after he hanged itself. Too on-the-nose for me.
The pictures suffer from simultaneously too much and too little description: often there's so much going on that the author can barely describe it all. The author is so caught up with character voice that the descriptions mix in with them and you never get a clear picture of the art you're looking at, even though the art is a central point of the game.
And the writing just isn't good enough. Some of the wording is awkward. Characters speak in voice until they don't, so the game can provide you with directions and tell you where the exits are. The painting descriptions have minor missteps, like:
> However, Domokov has done amazing and confusing tricks with perspective, similar to "Cornucopium".
That "done" doesn't sound right to me. It feels inelegant, and uncharacteristic of a learned seventy-three year old critic. There are more than a few places like this in the writing, where the language feels slightly off. I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm nitpicking. But this is a very text-heavy piece, so the tiny issues stood out to me.
I wish the number of paintings was lessened, and the descriptions lengthened. With multiple paragraphs to describe a painting and the viewpoint character's reaction, the concept could work. But Finley tries to fit everything into a few sentences.
"Maudlin", as another review said, is the right word for it. In the hands of a better writer this could be a good story, but it's hamstrung by sentimentality and reliance on cliches.
Disclaimer: Since my past self was enamored with this game, clearly my less-than-complimentary opinions here are subjective. I tried to be fair, but in the end I can't change the fact that this game really didn't cut it for me on the replay. Each to their own, maybe you'd like this one, etc.
If you really hate this review, just pretend I was roleplaying as the snooty art critic or the idiot student or something.
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