In a February 5, 2020 email cited by the New York Times, an art dealer told organizers of Art Basel Hong Kong that the March event was “commercially on artificial life support” and should be “put out of its misery.” At the time, China was at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic that would soon sweep the globe. Days later, organizers announced the formal cancelation of the world-renowned art fair “due to the severe outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus.”
Stateside, on March 12, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced the temporary closure of all three of its locations as part of the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The following day, the Louvre in Paris. The next, Spain’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Like the vast majority of the industry, art was effectively canceled.
Galleries have since been slowly starting to reopen, with early images depicting something of a dystopian world — temperature checks upon entering, strictly limited capacities, and, at some institutions in China, scanning QR codes to monitor people’s health.
As this new period in art and society begins to take shape, questions about the future landscape abound. What will the art scene look like going forward? Will gallery exhibitions go digital? Are we entering a new — “corona” — era of art that will follow up today’s post-modernist movement?
Frankly, we don’t know. But we are taking a look at what we do know and making a few educated guesses based on history, current events and the undeniable staying power of art.
Keeping Connected on Social
Art is an inherently connected community. And while gallery exhibitions are largely about viewing and experiencing the work on display, they also serve as an important networking, relationship, and community-building function.
In an interview with Forbes, artist Fatima Laster, owner of 5 Points Art Gallery and Studios in Milwaukee, described how she is using social media to stay connected with the art community during COVID-19-related lockdown orders. In addition to staying in touch with the gallery’s artists, Laster has also brought together artists and supporters via forums and virtual events, while sharing ways the community can support artists during this uncertain time.
What Laster’s approach highlights is the power of social media not necessarily in driving direct sales, but in preserving this very crucial component of the art world. If social distancing orders endure as early indications suggest they may, social media could play an important role in keeping galleries and art communities thriving from a distance.
It seems logical that, like so many industry conferences and events around the world, art galleries and exhibits could conceivably shift to online venues. In the immediate term, this may in fact be the case. Art Basel Hong Kong, for instance, created online viewing rooms through which exhibitors could showcase their work despite the event’s cancelation.
Whether Art Basel Miami will follow suit in September has yet to be seen. Regardless, experts like Dominique Lévy, co-founder of Lévy Gorvy gallery, are skeptical that COVID-19 will see digital exhibitions becoming the norm. As Lévy told the Robb Report, galleries are more likely to resume their pre-pandemic capacity, offering a refuge where people “can look at books and art, have a Cognac and a conversation eight feet apart.”
A Shift to eCommerce
While we agree that art will always be rooted in the physical, we do see online art galleries playing an important role in revenue generation, particularly for smaller galleries and independent artists. As galleries reopen with strict space and time restrictions, people are naturally spending less time inside, forcing them to focus more fully on the art and perhaps save their purchasing decisions for later.
As we stated at the beginning, we are merely theorizing based on the information we have as we navigate this unprecedented event. However this pans out, one thing is certain — art will endure, just as it has for centuries.