When it comes to the art world during these strange times of the coronavirus pandemic, one thing is certain: we are all going digital. Museums and galleries are now racing to revive and even create their online platforms from scratch; those among them who already had a strong presence in the virtual realm have it somewhat easier, as they “just” needed to fast-track its development.
Such is the case with one of the biggest art galleries in the world, Hauser & Wirth, who have closed the physical doors of their eight public spaces on March 11. In turn, they opened a virtual window called “Dispatches”, a new digital program launched last weekend (March 21) with a bang: Martin Creed’s live gig, now available on the gallery’s YouTube channel.
Such promising start will then be followed by a homespun series of original video and online features and events that connects audiences with artists and creates opportunities for learning and engagement online. Among the highlights is “From A Distance”, where the gallery artists share filmed messages and studio visits, as well as online exhibitions, the very first being dedicated to Louise Bourgeois’ works on paper. Hauser & Wirth’s Ursula magazine will also be available for free.
About how “Dispatches” came to be and what the future holds for the art world post-Covid-19, we talk to Iwan Wirth, President of Hauser & Wirth.
Widewalls: How much of the new “Dispatches” program was already done before the Covid-19 crisis basically forced you to go with it now?
Iwan Wirth: With our exhibition spaces currently closed, we fast-tracked our existing digital strategies and worked nimbly to create new ones. We realised that the voice of artists can bridge our communities and would bring inspiration to people while in isolation.
In recent years we had already focused on our digital platforms: our film series with our artists and estates features over 100 films so far. ‘Dispatches’ is a new concept and this week we opened our first online exhibition featuring 14 incredible drawings by Louise Bourgeois. The first event of the series was a live Instagram gig from artist Martin Creed broadcast on @hauserwirth, which over 4000 people viewed over the first weekend. This was very spontaneous and really opened our eyes to the potential of live events.
The programme also draws on the strengths of the existing editorial strands of Hauser & Wirth. All issues of Ursula, our magazine edited by Randy Kennedy, are now available free online. Gems of writing from Hauser & Wirth Publishers also feature.
We are combining this with new content that is curated by our team and suggested by our artists, like their videos submitted from the homes and studios of Mark Bradford, Avery Singer, George Condo, Guillermo Kuitca, Luchita Hurtado, Zhang Enli, and others.
Widewalls: How does "Dispatches" differ from the Online Viewing Rooms?
IW: We’re fostering a sense of global camaraderie with our family of artists. ‘Dispatches’ is different from the OVR model because the content takes many forms and is continually evolving. People can sign up via our website to receive two 'Dispatches' per week. We have 12 online exhibitions in progress and 10 live events.
Widewalls: What can people expect from the program in the coming weeks?
IW: Coming soon will be exhibitions of Zoe Leonard, George Condo and Philip Guston, as well as films from our archive and even recipes put forward by our family of artists.
An upcoming live online event is a conversation between the renowned photographer and artist Don McCullin and Tim Marlow, Director of the Design Museum in London. This was originally planned as a live event in our Somerset gallery and will now reach a global audience.
Education events remain a central part of our programming at this unprecedented time.
Widewalls: What will, in your opinion, the current health crisis do for the art world, in both good and bad ways?
IW: Like many other organisations we’re taking each week as it comes because we are still in the eye of the storm. There is no doubt a lasting impact will be that we will find better and alternative ways of connecting.
This applies within the art world but also extends to the wider world. Other industries have been ahead in terms of digital engagement and the time has come for the art world to catch up.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we're embracing the creativity of our artists as a cause for optimism and positivity in the face of this crisis.