Cube-ism: Tate Artworks Get Minecraft Makeover

The original was a Fauvist view of the Thames from London Bridge - it was a trade-heavy section of the river featuring a lot of cargo ships and activity

Tate gallery group has announced Tate Worlds; a project wherein artworks are being transformed into explorable Minecraft maps.

According to Tate, “The maps allow players of Minecraft to explore a range of paintings and sculpture, undertaking various activities and challenges that relate to the themes of the artworks, or exploring how they were made. Tate has teamed up with some of Minecraft’s best known mapmakers to create these virtual artworks, offering a unique combination of art, history and adventure.” I’m not so sure.

Two maps have been released thus far each relating to cities. One is focused around Andre Derain’s The Pool Of London from 1906 and the other is built around the New York seen in Soul Of The Soulless City, a 1920 work by Christopher Nevinson.

Six more are planned for 2015 and will deal with the ideas of Play, Destruction and Fantasy.

I’m currently unable to actually explore them as I seem to be stuck in some kind of authentication loop with Mojang – I need to reset my password but it seems that in order to do so I need to upgrade my account which requires my username and password. What japes! So here are my current thoughts and I’ll get back to you with how the maps measure up if I can get them working.

The painting actually underwent a renaming which may have reflected Nevinson's increasing disaffection with New York

I’m a big fan of the idea of interpreting art in new ways and opening up different entry points for people. But what I see in these creations isn’t quite that. Minecraft is actually a tricky medium to work in because of its rigid geometry. Taking Soul Of The Soulless City, the painting is this Futurism-flavoured swoop of train track and skyscraper. There’s a sense of movement and inhuman beauty offered up by the distorted architecture which is crucial to the work. Looking at the Minecraft recreation, neither of those things is present simply because of the different limitations of the medium. Elongation and swoop aren’t qualities best expressed visually in Minecraft so they’re instantly lost.

That’s not to say I don’t think it could work in other ways. In watching the trailer Alan Lewis (tewkescape) created for Soul Of The Soulless City it looks like you can ride the railway itself so that could feasibly encourage a similar sensation of wonder and motion. There are also other activities on offer – collecting boxes of materials was the one I saw. I’m not entirely sure how that would tie in, although it might be part of a wider effort to encourage children to see art as a playful space rather than a NO RUNNING, NO TOUCHING, NO EATING gallery trip.

My main concern, then, is the linking of the two things; map and artwork. If someone enjoys the space and sensations created in the Tate Worlds offering, does that actually bear any relation to the corresponding painting or sculpture at all, especially given the aesthetic homogeneity I find Minecraft produces? The trailer and the blurb on the Tate Worlds page make Soul Of A Soulless City sound more like a trip to 1920s New York, seeing Minecraft renditions of what Nevinson would have seen, than anything explicitly relating to or opening up that particular artwork. That prompts the question of what duty (if any) a Tate Worlds creation necessarily owes to the original artwork. Perhaps this is the 2014 equivalent of being asked to tell a story based on a painting – something I remember from my own primary school gallery expeditions.

If you’re interested in exploring either of the aforementioned works, the maps are free to download via the Tate Worlds page.

Other works set for inclusion in the project during 2015 include John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, Peter Blake’s The Toy Shop, John Martin’s The Destruction Of Pompeii And Herculaneum, and Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (one of my own favourites).


  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    I wonder if Minecraft will someday be a respected art form.

    • drinniol says:

      It has a whole art style named after it already – where do you think Cubism came from? :P

      • Jalan says:

        I don’t know about anyone else, but I had a good laugh at that one.

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        Mmmm, so true. Pioneered by Pablo Pickaxeo, I believe.

  2. noodlecake says:

    I agree. I think it’s a terrible idea. It’s the Tate trying to be “in” and contemporary. It was probably pitched by somebody looking for a grant. The concept of making the works explorable in a virtual world is great though, but paying someone to model and texture everything properly and having it as a stand alone thing would definitely be better than making everything from four foot cubes.

    I’m an art student with a strong interest in Fine Art, although I lean way more towards the side of Fine Art where people make things that look interesting and are a product of experience and knowledge, rather than badly composed, boring films displayed on a cathode ray television (They’re almost always on these old TVs for some reason. Maybe it’s not fine art any more if you use an LCD screen.) on top of a cardboard box with some iron filings and an empty cigarette box next to it.

    • iainl says:

      I want to agree, but if it introduces more people to the Cornelia Parker piece in particular, then it’s worth it. I love that thing so, so much.

  3. Koozer says:

    It seems like they’re just making literal translations of the paintings subject matter to Minecraft, when surely it would be better trying capture the style and feeling. I await The Destruction Of Pompeii And Herculaneum with morbid curiosity.

  4. girard says:

    Beyond the obvious limitations of the Minecraft aesthetic, what seems even weirder to me is that they seem to be exclusively recreating 2D artworks in Minecraft’s 3D space, which makes the resulting spaces/maps even *less* directly related to the source material. It seems like recreating sculptures would make more sense.

    On a vaguely related note, I taught a digital art class at the Smithsonian this summer, and one of the projects we did was having the kids walk out to the Smithsonian sculpture garden, photographically document a chosen sculpture from multiple angles, then use LEGO Build with Chrome to both recreate the existing sculptures and add their own ones to the garden on the map. Their handiwork is visible here:
    link to

    • slerbal says:

      You make an excellent point. Sculpture would be far more interesting, especially if scaled up to give you new perspectives on the piece.

    • Premium User Badge

      Philippa Warr says:

      Just as a quick point – one of the works getting the map treatment next year is a sculpture – Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

  5. slerbal says:

    This is giving me flashbacks to the stampede to create interactive spaces on Second Life. It feels like it springs from a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes/made Minecraft great, and as others have said I’m not sure what they are trying to achieve here in regards to the original artwork. Five minutes of wandering around a rather small and static Minecraft world seems like a disconnect.

    Using Minecraft to build versions of the cities of Westeros, Denmark or other places makes sense. This just feels a bit meh to me. I’d rather see the original art.