How Coronavirus Makes The Art World Go On(line)

June 6, 2020

Labeled a global pandemic by the World Health Organization, COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, is currently changing the world as we know it. Governments around the world are taking radical measures in order to contain the situation. Italy and Spain, the European hotspots, are currently on complete lockdown, while nearby countries like Germany and France report alarming spikes in daily cases.

Consequently, the art world had to take precautions. Many art museums are now closed, biennials and fairs have been canceled or postponed. In light of these cancellations and postponing, many galleries, museums, auction houses and other art players had to invent or fast-track their digital development, to meet the demands of an audience that can no longer be met in the physical space. 

The economic impact on the cultural sector worldwide will be huge, but the art world is attempting to soften the blow by going digital. This is why many art players have decided to take their business online. The future has “arrived so much sooner,” David Zwirner said. “If galleries are closed, how can we sell art? The online platform is something we have envisioned as an important part of what we do.”

Exhibition Tours by The Art Institute of Chicago on YouTube

Online Museum Tours

While the majority of the museums around the world are temporary closing for visitors, many of them are now focusing on their websites and social media accounts to bring their audience closer to their programs and initiatives. You can browse the collections of some of the biggest institutions online, including the British Museum, The Louvre, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and Uffizi Gallery.

In the light of the coronavirus pandemics, Neue Galerie New York allows its virtual visitors to learn and explore past and present exhibitions, and a range of online content such as video interviews and downloadable audio guides. Palazzo Strozzi is also finding ways to engage with its audience, turning their website into “a platform of words, images, videos, stories and further reading” on art projects, inspired by an exhibition which was to take place at the museum. 

Fondazione Prada also moved all its activities online during the current health crisis, creating “a laboratory of ideas” on their website and social media channels. At the same time, musicians and theaters have also started to stream performances online to make up for the fact that live performances have been canceled or postponed.

The Met Audio Guides - The British Galleries

Taking the Business Online

Art Basel Hong Kong, which was supposed to take place at the end of March, has decided to cancel the upcoming edition. Instead, the fair launched the Online Viewing Rooms, a new digital-only platform for its galleries and collectors. The platform will be live until March 25th, 2020, providing visitors with the opportunity to browse more than 2,000 works worth $270 million, presented by 95% of Art Basel’s participating galleries, many of which are online exclusives.

And galleries throughout the United States are considering web-based works and curated online exhibitions. The dealer David Zwirner decided to develop virtual viewing rooms, where visitors can explore and collect works from curated, online-only exhibitions by gallery artists and special collaborations. Their viewing rooms already include videos of artists working in their studios, while their website offers links to podcasts with artists. Perrotin is also pioneering new ways to see art at its gallery without being physically there. The Bharti Kher and Cinga Samson shows that unexpectedly closed early at the gallery are still available to see on their website, alongside the interviews with the artists. Temporarily closing its doors, Van Doren Waxter from New York encourages potential visitors “to visit and explore our exhibitions online,” while their "Richard Diebenkorn exhibition is accessible here.” Jack Shainman gallery in Manhattan said in its announcement that “digital walk-throughs” of shows by the artists Becky Suss and Vibha Galhotra “are available upon request.” Pace, which first launched online viewing rooms privately last year, began offering them to the public on Monday, starting with one on the artist Sam Gilliam. During its temporary closure, the gallery will continue with a series of thematic online presentations.

Museums and galleries are now paying special attention to their social media platforms, with many sharing videos, live streams and online events using the tag #MuseumFromHome. MoMA in New York kicked things off by posting a new soundtrack by Conor Bourgal called A Portable EmbraceThe Mori Art Museum in Tokyo posted a walkthrough of its Future and the Arts exhibition on its Instagram account; The Broad in Los Angeles did the same with its Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirrored Rooms; the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto has streamed performances on Facebook Live; and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC is doing daily tours of its galleries. In an attempt to find the best ways of moving online, many museums are asking visitors and viewers directly to suggest the kind of content they want.

Independent curators are also looking at innovative ways to show art, using social media and hosting online art exhibitions, such as the How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This? one co-curated by Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen. On Instagram, we ran into profiles like Artists in Quarantine or Art in Times of COVID, which gather art dealing with the crisis.

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During the period of closures caused by COVID-19 and beyond, #PaceGallery will publish a series of thematic and solo artist exhibitions on its online viewing room platform. These digital exhibitions enable widespread access to the gallery’s expansive roster of artists and the stories that shape their practices during a time that necessitates creative inspiration, engagement, and perspective. - Organized by Pace’s dealers and curators, many of the projects directly engage with human experience in this unprecedented climate, including a solo artist exhibition devoted to works on the theme of domesticity by American artist and cartoonist #SaulSteinberg (launching Monday, March 23), and a meditative group presentation on “stillness,” titled "A Swiftly Tilting Planet" (launching Thursday, March 26). - Each online exhibition is supported by thoughtful interpretative materials—both scholarly and playful—created by Pace’s curatorial team, including texts, audio, and comparative visual materials culled from the gallery’s vast digital archives and further afield. - Through our online exhibition space we hope to offer a rich contextual lens through which to engage with our artists’ work. This is a time when people are seeking solace, and we believe art has the power to bring comfort and help us parse this difficult situation together. - Image ©️ Yto Barrada, Design by Huber/Sterzinger @hubersterzinger @ytobarrada

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The Virtual Buying Experience

While an online viewing room cannot replace the firsthand experience of encountering a work of art in person, such virtual buying experiences may become increasingly necessary for the art market, given current restrictions on congregating. Many collectors have already become comfortable with online purchases from the galleries they trust, and many more will have to follow suit.

There is certainly the added value that online viewing rooms can provide, including namely historical context through accompanying scholarly essays and reaching collectors who can’t easily travel to galleries or art fairs. They can also foster potential democratization of the art world, as anybody can have a look without being intimidated of walking into a gallery or auction house and.

The online art sales are already on a steady rise according to numerous art market reports, so online art marketplaces can become greater catalysts in the future. Galleries will increasingly want to sell their art online, and they can do it through online art-selling platforms like Widewalls, allowing the buyers to comfortably browse and buy artworks from their own home.

Featured image: Browsing Widewalls' Online Marketplace. Image via CC.