A Not-So-Dangerous Wager

Organizers and MTG art fans are betting big on the Magic Art Show that will take place at this year’s GP Las Vegas.


The biggest Magic: The Gathering event of the year is getting a whole lot bigger for 2017.

In addition to featuring Legacy, Limited, and Modern tournaments June 14-18, GP Las Vegas will now also include the Magic Art Show, a 2,000-square-foot exhibition of original art from throughout the game’s history.

Curated by Mike Linnemann and hosted in association with Cardamajigs, the Magic Art Show looks set to assemble an unprecedented amount of original MTG art in one place for what is sure to be a breathtaking exhibition.

“This is the first large art exhibition focused on Magic, not merely a group show of random artworks that have no cohesive theme,” says Mike, who currently writes for Gathering Magic and who formerly served as a writer for Magic’s creative team and an art director at Fantasy Flight Games.

Being the first of its kind meant that the Magic Art Show has been years in the making. Mike says that the idea came about in roughly 2011 when he volunteered at Gen Con. It took about three years to get the exhibit approved. A gallery show, he admits, would have been easier to organize but wouldn’t have had the accessibility or visibility of a show at GP Las Vegas.



To help accomplish this, Mike partnered with Rico Evangelho to pull it off. A designer and art director by trade, Rico is co-founder of the digital entertainment agency Arctic Empire and the mastermind behind the gaming accessories site Cardamajigs.

“I loved the idea and was down from the get-go,” says Rico, who is using his in-house development team to help prepare the event’s printed materials and website.

Much like the Planeswalkers in the game, visitors to the show will have the ability to transport between different locales in Magic’s multiverse — without having to brave the dangers of the Blind Eternities. Guests will journey through plane-specific art rooms, embarking on a voyage through the visual history of the MTG universe. Along the way, they’ll be able to view original card art, promotional images, concept drawings, and more.

The idea, says Rico, is to give attendees “a cohesive flow from plane to plane [that] allows them to enjoy the paintings not as single entities but as the pieces of a greater world.”

For people who have been playing Magic for a long time, the show will also aim to give them a greater appreciation of MTG’s unique marriage of art and gameplay.

“Visitors will be able to see brushstrokes and how the paint actually looks,” says Mike. “Often illustrations in gaming aren’t really examined that close. … As such, high level players to entry level people may look at a few artworks but never really examine every artwork in a set. Every Magic player seeing the art already knows what it is, but like Googling the Mona Lisa, they don’t really know what the art all entails.”


EVEN A FEW years ago, the idea of hosting an art show focused on original Magic: The Gathering art may have seemed far-fetched to the average player. There’s a perception that images created for a game are disposable or “less valuable” than serious artwork. Even artists who worked on MTG have stories about how they sold iconic images for pennies on the dollar during Magic’s earliest days.

Thankfully, this paradigm has shifted considerably. Gaming illustrators — especially those who work on Magic — are being held in greater and greater esteem. Their work is consistently featured in Spectrum and Infected by Art. Their original paintings can sell for thousands of dollars or more. And many go on to establish renowned fine art or gallery careers.

“Illustration shouldn’t be considered a lesser art form,” says Mike. “Getting untraditional areas into art exhibitions helps make it more relevant to thousands of people who believe contemporary art is merely [Andres] Serrano or [Chris] Ofili — conceptual art that has little value to most laymen.”

Mike goes on to explain that imaginative realism — the genre to which gaming art generally belongs — cannot be divorced from its illustration roots. He also adds that having exhibits like the Magic Art Show can elevate the discussion among artists, collectors, and critics about the place gaming art has within the larger scene.


GP Las Vegas is generally the most well-attended Magic: The Gathering event in the world — as the crowds at previous tournaments can attest.

(Photo © Wizards of the Coast)


For Rico, the impetus for the Magic Art Show goes back to a foundational reaction that he thinks many players can relate to.

“I became passionate about MTG art from the moment I opened my first booster pack of Champions of Kamigawa,” he says. “I received a foil Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and was enamored by the card’s art and the shininess of it all.” The fox creatures in the set even fostered his early artistic ambitions as he drew his own versions of the kitsune.

To that end, the organizers want to make the show professionally polished with an unprecedented level of accessibility. Mike’s vision as curator is to make a space where newcomers and aficionados alike can gather to indulge their shared passion. For many visitors, he says, the exhibit may be the first showcase example of art they enjoy with approachably written labels created for them, unlike a white-walled museum where labels are more technical.

“The perception is that art is unapproachable,” Mike says. “Since I’m bringing the art to them, to the people, to the players who enjoy it, it’s an introduction to enjoying art on the whole, not just this niche.”

Certainly, the information released about the show so far means that tournament-goers have lots to be excited about. Besides being a welcome diversion between intense rounds of competitive gameplay at the grand prix, the gallery space will also be a hub for other creative endeavors such as workshops, panels, and a food and beverage reception. Exhibition-related memorabilia will be available for purchase at the gallery vendor space.

“Because of this innate attachment to images and the game we all love, seeing the source of where these images came from and how they were created is a no brainer, especially if you have a few spare moments between events,” says Rico.


FOR A GROWING community that is becoming more and more passionate about Magic’s original artwork, the Magic Art Show portends the first step of what many expect will be a growing trend. Mike hopes that the exhibit will be a proof of concept for future traveling exhibitions and gallery shows — including ones outside the United States, where Wizards of the Coast is headquartered.

For those involved, however, there is a deeper motivation that goes beyond the art itself: to gain the trust of the community and of Magic’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast, that it can be done. Mike says that if they can pull this off, it might “lay the groundwork for an all-Alpha art show in 2018, celebrating Magic’s 25th anniversary.”

In the meantime, Mike and Rico have their hands full — sorting artwork, coordinating shipping and insurance, and ensuring that the Magic Art Show goes off without a hitch. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have time to ruminate on what dream pieces they would choose to have in the exhibit.


If they could choose one dream piece each to be in the exhibit, Mike would select “Voltaic Key” by Henry G. Higgenbothan and Rico would choose “Humility” by Phil Foglio.

(Images © Wizards of the Coast)


For Rico, “I personally have an affinity for [Phil and Kaja] Foglio works, my personal favorite piece being Humilty. It’s quirky and cartoony and something you will never see again in the game.”

For Mike, it’s “Voltaic Key by Henry G. Higgenbotham. The card art is actually a photograph of a sculpture — all of his art is. Putting the sculpture in a case would be pretty special and illuminating to players that medium doesn’t matter; quality of art does.”

Will either of these pieces be in the final exhibit? You’ll just have to wait and see when the Magic Art Show opens June 14 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. There is no charge for admission.

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