Sunday, February 27, 2022

Covid and the Art World (Recap)

As we slowly but surely seem to be moving toward the new normal after the worst of the Covid Pandemic, we can look back at what effect it has had on the artworld over the last three years.

Of course, at the end of 2019 in the United States there were rumors of a new virus coming out of China, but it always seemed to be played down. Together with most of the artworld I first came face to face with it after TEFAF, The European Fine Arts Fair, in Maastricht in early 2020, where 300 exhibitors had 28,000 plus visitors. A number of these came down with the virus. Some were hospitalized and in intensive care. Exact figures could not be ascertained but, after the fact, TEFAF was criticized because European governments had made the organizers aware that this virus would soon be a global pandemic.

TEFAF 2020 (Artforum)

I have already covered all the closings of art institutions both large and small. Many, though not all, came out whole or better off than they had ever dreamed because of government subsidies and supporters who knew that their favorite institutions were in trouble and gave even more than in normal times.

For better or for worse, there is always progress, life goes on. In earlier Missives I mentioned how I had one of the first art dealer websites (1996) even though I am something of a luddite. It took a while until almost every art dealer had a website of one kind or another.

The virtual art world got a major digital boost with Covid. Institutions found that if they went online, not just with their collections but with virtual programs, they could build their constituencies. A small cultural center that used to offer lectures to their local members in person started to present their lectures online. The bonus, of course, was that the lecture could be heard and seen worldwide, allowing a broader audience to become involved. An online talk or tour might make viewers curious enough to follow a museum’s programs, make a financial contribution, and travel to see the institution when it reopened.

Among the many innovations forced by Covid was the possibility of the public being able to come in contact with artists in their own studio environments. To see the artist at work, you no longer needed an introduction and have an invitation to visit. Besides virtual gallery hopping there were virtual studio tours where you could be up close and personal with the artist. Here you can see Paris art dealer and specialist in French 18th century art , Eric Coatalem, talk about a painting in his gallery, subtitles in English.

Institutions needed to stay relevant or risk extinction. More museums started to put their collections on-line or have exhibitions one could go through just using your computer mouse. Just as you can take a virtual tour of a house you are interested in buying, you could do the same in a private art gallery. Auction houses made their sales accessible for viewing and bidding online. Even as they returned to in person sales, they continued the virtual features making participation easier.

Lest we forget new forms of art also came to the fore. Today, everyone is aware of the NFT and the art emersion experience the best known of these being the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibition that has been making its global rounds and even coming to Albuquerque, New Mexico soon.

Credit: San Antonio Current

All we hear about lately is how terrible social media is, but when it comes to the arts it has been a huge plus. In effect, Covid democratized the art world. From the comfort of their home, and dressed in pajamas, people could still take tours of the museum, galleries, or artists’ studios. Just because they thought they could not afford what they liked they did not need to be non-participants in the art market. Potential collectors from the new wealth of the technology sector could learn without the embarrassment of asking what they thought might be stupid questions because they could remain essentially anonymous.

Be it the performing arts or the fine arts we wish to attract a wider audience. What better introduction than the virtual world where there is no fear of judgement.

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