Recently, my wife Nicki and I visited the Pink Palace Museum, and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Memphis has a lot of great museums and these are two of our favorites. We’ve both been visiting them since we were kids.
Let me start off by saying my wife is a HUGE gamer. She loves playing on the various gaming systems we have around the house, on her iPhone or iPad, or on her home computer. She reeeeeaaaaallllly digs ’em. Me- I’m not a huge gamer these days, although I loved playing them as a kid. I still feel nostalgic when I see the old graphics and hear the sound effects. I started off with a Coleco Telstar Marksman back in the late ’70s (PONG games on a B/W 12″ TV). It was pretty simple and only had a few games, but came with a light-gun for skeet shooting which I really enjoyed. In the early ’80s I loved playing stand up games like Pac-Man, Centipede, Missile Command, Space Invaders, TRON, and my favorite Galaxian (and later Galaga) at the skating rink or arcades, and would come home and play my Atari 2600 after school, too. Video games hit around the same time as my interest in comics, art, and girls- so I had to try and make time to enjoy all of them. As I got older and into high school, comics and video games took a back seat to girls for a while, but I still tried to make time to still draw. I didn’t buy another game system until the ’90s when I bought a PlayStation…just before the Playstation 2 came out. Ugh. In the mid ’90s my house got broke into and someone stole my PlayStation, but left my video games. I guess we just didn’t share the same tastes- or my games really sucked. I later had a friend give me their older Sega Genesis system, but I ended up giving that to my nieces and nephew when theirs went kaput. When my friends Dave and Micah lived in town a bunch of us would get together at their apartment for videogame tournaments. It was a lot of fun and a great social night for us, but once they moved and my PlayStation was gone I just didn’t play much anymore.


Funny thing, when I met Nicki for the first time she was playing on a friend’s system and kicking the crap out of another friend. I new right away this girl was serious about her gaming. She even turned one of our cats into a gamer!

I have been wanting to take Nicki to see “The Art of  Video Games” exhibit at the Brooks since I heard about it this summer, and finally had a free weekend we weren’t traveling or that I had to work. One Saturday morning last month we drove over to Overton Park in the midtown section of Memphis, TN. Little did we realize that there was a concert going on at the Levitt Shell behind the Brooks Museum. That and the milder weather we were having in August packed the park and the zoo- which is where we ended up having to park. Once inside the museum it was a lot less crowded, which is kinda what I was hoping for.

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There was a large Vide-O-belisk on display in the middle of the lobby as we entered. It was full of neon and flashing video images on a variety of styles of TV monitors. The 19ft tall sculpture by artist Nam June Paik was commissioned by the Brooks in 2002. It’s a very impressive structure. The gift shop was behind the large glowing obelisk. We did a bit of shopping there before we left, but they were out of “The Art of  Video Games” book. I did leave my name with the girl working behind the counter and the manager gave me a call a few days later to let me know they were in. Picked it up after we had visited the Pink Palace Museum the following weekend.


We decided to head downstairs to galleries 2, 3, and 4 and work our way back up through the museum. We were greeted by a large mural of the exhibit logo- which resembled a large Pac-Man game.


And speaking of a large Pac-Man game– there was one just inside as you entered that you could play. There was a controller stand and the game was being projected on the wall. It was very cool, and if we ever buy a projector I’m sure Nicki will use it for such at some point.


There were several other games that could be played around the space including a Mario Bros. one and a couple I wasn’t familiar with.


There was a time limit to help give everyone a chance to experience playing them- although a few parents had to remind some of the kids to let others have a turn.
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Several gaming systems were on display including classics like the Commodore 64 and Atari 2600 (alas no Telstar Marksman), and more modern ones like the Nintendo Game Cube, Wii, X-Box, and various PlayStation versions. It was interesting to see the evolution of the gaming systems and which ones still survive.  wish there had been some hand held games like the old Football one my friends had as kids, or the original GameBoy.


Nicki enjoyed the interactive displays- especially the Mass Effect one. That’s her favorite video game series.


She’s a big Commander Shepard fan and enjoys playing the Mass Effect games as “FemShep“. I try to pick her up at least one new Mass Effect collectible for Christmas.

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There were large signs on the walls around the exhibit describing the different eras of game development and other historical info. The exhibit had several pieces of game art on display in a few groupings, but not as much art as I had hoped to see. Would have liked to see a lot of the old box art for some of the classic games compared to some of the new illustrations which has evolved with the games. Didn’t see a mention of the “E.T.” game and it’s “art” or the lack of it, either. Those were the only real disappointments I had.


We saw video game fans of all ages enjoying the exhibit. Some seemed more interested in playing the games, others picking up the phone headsets to interact with the displays, some were reading, many my age reminiscing about their favorites growing up, and some were just trying to wrangle their kids or significant others.


As we were leaving there was a guest book. We stopped signed it, and listed some of our first/favorite video games.


After the main gallery with the gaming, art, and interactive displays was a room with custom painted old style stand up arcade game cabinets in the center, and surrounded by walls covered floor to ceiling by a video game themed mural.

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The mural was great, and fun to pick out all the different characters depicted in the art. Each video game cabinet had been painted with different characters or themes. This part of the exhibit was called “Buggin’ & Shruggin: A Glitched History of Gaming Culture” and was done by artist artist Michael Roy/Birdcap Shruggin. I thought it was all cool, but I overheard several kids complain that “they didn’t work“. Oh, well- kids and art.


In the next room there were two game stations set up with more games the kids could play- and do some art of their own.

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Visitors could also draw their favorite characters and hang them on the wall. There were some really great ones.


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On the far wall there was also an area where you could use Post-It Note sheets to create 8 bit looking characters. Batman was my favorite.

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Overall we really enjoyed the exhibit, and the art book. It’s on our coffee table now. We spent a good portion of the morning exploring the rest of the museum, including exhibits like “Cats and Quotes“, “20th Century Color Woodcuts: Japonisme and Beyond“, “British Watercolors from the Golden Age“, some great African art, and lots more.


Not part of the gaming exhibit, but a brilliant end cap display at a local Target we saw later in the day- video games and energy drinks together…just genius! well played, Target. 😉


The following weekend Nicki had a company function at the Pink Palace Museum near the U 0f M area off Central. They are sponsoring “Living in the Age of Airplanes“- one of the films shown on the Pink Palace’s CTI Giant Theater. It had some amazing aerial and overhead footage, and was narrated by Harrison Ford. We really enjoyed catching a sneak preview with several of Nicki’s coworkers. We also found out that the Pink Palace will be showing all the Harry Potter movies in September and October! We saw “Superman: The Movie” there back in July and had a blast!

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After the movie we went upstairs to check out “Wicked Plants The Exhibit“. 


I didn’t realize how many common plants can be dangerous- or deadly! Seriously- Aloe Vera..?!! Apparently so if ingested.


Insert your own Tawny Kitaen joke here… 😉

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They had a few “faux” plants, because the real ones were just to dangerous to have within touching distance. I do wish they would have had more examples of bizarre plants- something like the Addams Family would own. I did have fun with the fun house mirror, watching videos, and playing with some of the interactive displays.


We did get the answers right on picking out the correct poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac. Okay, we guessed on the last two, but the old saying “leaves of three- let it be” came in handy.


Nicki said many of the sets reminded her of a haunted house so much that she kept looking out for “boo-spots“! Yeah, she’s been around me too long.


I loved the old stereoscope. I dig anything 3D and have collected View Masters since I was a kid. There was another one in a different section of the museum dealing with the history of Memphis and the Mid-South, which is where we headed next.


I love checking out the Memphis/Mid-South history section of the museum. Each time I visit it I seem to notice or learn something different. This is from the Negro League’s Memphis Red Sox baseball team.


Lots of civil war and civil rights exhibits. You can find out about cotton or the King– and their importance and influence on this area.


And toys! These were some awesome antique metal toys on display. Some great period piece clothing and furniture as well.

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I love this part of the museum. Many people may wonder what’s the importance of a Piggly Wiggly store in a museum, especially one in Memphis?


Well, not only was Piggly Wiggly the first self-service grocery store that started here in Memphis in 1916, but the founder Clarence Saunders once owned the mansion that is now the Pink Palace Museum. Oh, and it got it’s name from the pink Georgia marble used in the construction of it. (You can read more about the history of the museum here.)

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On the upper level you can walk through a full sized replica of the first Piggly Wiggly. I love looking at all the old product names and label art. Some reminded me of products I’d seen in the Harry Potter movies.

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Here’s a strange fact- according to the Piggly Wiggly site, there are no stores located in Memphis any more! Just a few years ago they were all over the city. I’ve seen a few south of us in Mississippi, and north in Nashville but none around here. Weird…


My favorite part of the museum is the Clyde Parke Minature Circus exhibit. It’s being renovated right now, but you can still see and enjoy it.

Artist Clyde Parke began hand carving his circus in the 1930s during the Great Depression while he was out of a job.


It was displayed for the first time in 1935 as part of the Memphis Cotton Carnival, then later shown at the Mid-South Fairgrounds in 1953 and at a Memphis department store in 1959.


It was donated to the museum in 1970, and it took Clyde four months to take the circus apart and reassemble it at the Pink Palace Museum.


The attention to detail is amazing, and it’s another thing I always notice something different when I see it.


The Pink Palace is part of the Pink Palace Family of Museums maintained by the City of Memphis, TN. The Museum Family includes the Pink Palace Museum, the CTI 3D Giant Theater, the Sharpe Planetarium, The Lichterman Nature Center and the historic Mallory-Neely and Magevney Houses. In high school my friends and I hardly ever missed a weekend laser light show at the planetarium. Wish they would have had the big movie theater back then!


So don’t just sit there- go to a museum this holiday weekend. The Art of Video Games at the Brooks ends next weekend, and Wicked Plants ends this Labor Day at the Pink Palace.



The Art of Video Games
June 6 – September 13, 2015


Wicked Plants The Exhibit
June 6 – September 7, 2015 


Pink Palace Giant Screen Movies

Harry Potter movie series

Saturdays in September & October at 4pm

Labor Day Monday at 4pm

Special Double Feature Halloween Night! 


Living in the Age of Airplanes

Opens September 12, 2015