Social distancing remains the most important method of slowing down the rate of infection during this global health crisis, and yet it also provides an unexpected opportunity for people to experience art in new ways. Art is a vector of social cohesion, largely perceived as an emotional act that people commonly prefer to experience physically. Indeed, discovering an artist during a vernissage, meeting relatives for an exhibition, or wandering from booth to booth during a fair… it is all of these art-related experiences that make the art world so unique. In this context in which businesses have been closed and gatherings have been banned, a number of galleries, artists and institutions have promptly turned to the vast potential of the Internet with online initiatives. Beyond virtual exhibition spaces and email campaigns to maintain business, art market players have come up with creative methods of delivering culture, happiness, and ways to keep bringing people together. It is as if working from home and living through the same fearful crisis has carved out a space of solidarity where everyone, from the smallest online gallery to the biggest blue chip, can contribute. Whilst ensuring everyone’s safety, our team at Convelio took advantage of these past few days to summarize the different initiatives that fair organizers, galleries, artists and institutions have been undertaking.
The Online Viewing Rooms of Art Basel HK have caused quite a stir, and the micro-sites of Art Paris’ exhibitors aroused curiosity, but other show organizers adopted a different approach. For instance, Hélène Mouradian, the director of the Salon du Dessin and Fine Arts Paris, has been proposing, in collaboration with Connaissance des Arts (an art magazine belonging to the same group) to regularly unveil a drawing selected by one of the fair’s exhibitors. With this strategy, Mrs Mouradian and Guy Boyer (Chief redactor of CdA) made the choice to space the publications over the time, creating even more excitement for the collectors as they impatiently waited to unveil the next hidden story behind a drawing. You can find the chronicles on the websites of the magazine and the “Salon du dessin”. In her own words, Hélène Mouradian stressed that “the important thing is to stay positive and to keep working in order to be ready for the “after”“.
Staying positive and maintaining the link to collectors and art lovers were also the galleries’ guiding principles! Beyond the building of e-commerce platforms and online catalogues to facilitate sales from the comfort of home, our current and future clients have been taking their mission of “art & culture messengers” very seriously. For instance, Florian Azzopardi, the founder of the online african art gallery Afikaris, has been releasing homemade videos setting his artists’ work on a cheery musical background with the intention to offer joy and lightness to people. The French and Brussels-based gallery Michel Rein, got inspired by Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. Far from taking a mercantile approach to their digital presence, the gallery invited artists to share how they felt and how they were living through this period of confinement. Jimmie Durham was the first artist to open this series with an autoportrait, while Maria Thereza Alves shared a video with viewers in her napolitan garden - it is clear that Michel Rein’s team is doing an amazing job in amplifying their artists’ voices. “Pas un jour sans une oeuvre)” (“Not one day without an artwork”) is the mission Hervé Loevenbruck has been undertaking, which echoes the initiative lead in 2008 by the press drawers Philippe Mayaux, Miguel Egana, Willem and Daniel Johnstonby. The owner of the Parisian Gallery Loevenbruck is posting on instagram everyday, showcasing images from one of his collections, which the director of the gallery, Alexandra Schillinger, then complements with a text sent through a newsletter. According to her, this period is also a way to break the barriers of time and geography with enthusiasm and optimism. She adds that “It is a way to say to the artists and to the institutions that even in confinement, we don’t forget, we support them, we remember”. The contemporary art gallery SATOR, which is one of the galleries that inaugurated a space in the industrial site of Komunuma in Romainville, leveraged Instagram to support its artists as well. SATOR has a long tradition of representing socio-politically engaged artists, and chose to give them a voice through short podcasts published on the gallery’s Instagram channel. RX gallery, the 640m2 space in Le Marais dedicated to contemporary art, had already been working on virtual initiatives long before the covid-19 crisis, since they had to compensate for the negative impact of the yellow vests’ activities. Like other galleries which can afford it, they resorted to Artland.
The Covid crisis is definitely a blow to artists’ exposure, especially for those who are not represented by galleries. Taking inspiration from Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms idea, Charles Belle - a French painter who is also very popular in Asia - launched his virtual museum last week. In his own words: “I am working a lot with large formats, therefore the physical relation to my work is essential. But in the crisis, visits to the studio and exhibitions are not conceivable. With this digital viewing tool, I can still show my work despite the confinement; this virtual museum makes it possible to space the work, to appreciate its dimensions and to project oneself mentally”.
Just like artists, institutions that rely on financial support from visits are suffering a lot from this crisis. We interviewed the Parisian art dealer Françoise Livinec whose special art place in Huelgoat (Brittany) is only open during the summer. To set the context, Livinec transformed an old school for girls built in 1810 in an art exhibition space. This location has an esoteric and spiritual atmosphere charged with history, and it welcomes philosophers, artists, curators and writers every summer to exhibit, engage in talks and workshops. For her, nothing replaces the sensual power of art that one can feel by seeing, touching… even smelling an art work! However, digital communication can provide an alternative to physical meetings and give a sense of solace while strengthening the links between people. For instance, after her network expressed the desire to have their artworks on their wall during this period of confinement, she had an idea. Everyday she receives pictures from collectors in their house, illustrating artworks that they discovered from her, which she then compiles and shares in a daily newsletter. She allows the creation of a space at the crossroads between intimicity and virtuality, where one can remember that art has no frontier. In her own words: "Every crisis is a revelation of who we are and what makes us tick. Collectors who have taken time to come to Huelgoat, to meet the artists, to share moments together, are pleased to live with their paintings. In these moments of confinement, the works of art send them back to all the shared moments of culture. I've rethought my entire programming for this summer at the Ecole des Filles. We will not be able to pretend that nothing happened".
Although this pandemic is profoundly difficult for everyone, there are positive, innovative and hopeful reactions from the art world. We observed a common approach from dealers as they attempt to maintain a strong link with their network while providing support to their artists. The more advanced will take advantage of the confinement to build sophisticated virtual exhibition spaces, while others will focus on message rather than format. Overall, from the most “tech savvy” to the greatest advocates of the “physical” art experience, everyone is doing their part. If gallerist and fair organizers have been lacking time to deeply innovate, this crisis may be seen as a great opportunity to reconnect with their network whilst pushing the boundaries further.