The Art Coming Out of a Pandemic

Liz Catalano
Published on

Museums, galleries, and auction houses are all feeling the pressure of the paused economy. However, contemporary artists must also navigate new creative spaces and challenges during the COVID-19 outbreak. From wry humor to political activism, many are making the most of their time in quarantine.

Melanie Marsman’s adaptation of Salome with the Head of the Baptist by Mariano Salvador Maella (1761). Image from Instagram
Melanie Marsman’s adaptation of Salome with the Head of the Baptist by Mariano Salvador Maella (1761). Image from Instagram

Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook have become increasingly important to many artists as galleries close their doors. From March 10th to April 3rd, an Instagram account managed by art consultant Giada Pellicari offered a virtual exhibition exploring life in isolation. Italian artists experiencing the pandemic’s European wave produced sketches, sculptures, and performance art for Instagram. A Dutch account titled Tussen Kunst & Quarantine (Between Art and Quarantine) invites photography submissions that imitate classical masterpieces. 

Various museums and networks have followed this lead. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is sponsoring a similar project to support local artists in residence. Artists are taking the opportunity to express their creativity and start conversations. Roy Boney, a Cherokee artist from Tahlequah, Oklahoma, recreated Charles Bird King’s portrait of Sequoyah for the virtual exhibition. The Cherokee leader is shown wearing a face mask in this self-described public service announcement. It is titled Help Stop the Spread of Germs.

Seven international museums recently worked together to commission works of balcony art across Europe. L’Internationale Online invited artists to create outdoor, public works that reflect life under quarantine. The Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw are among the participating museums. Manuel Borja-Villel, the director of the Reina Sofía, describes the project as a “visual manifestation of the balcony singing that has become so popular and uplifting in Italy.” 

In another developing project, an online photography journal called LENSCRATCH released the 2020 Self-Quarantining Exhibition on April 1st. Dozens of self-portraits can be viewed online in the seven-part series, visually illustrating how artists around the world are experiencing distance.

Andrea Castillio’s self-portrait titled Terabitia. Image from LENSCRATCH.
Andrea Castillio’s self-portrait titled Terabitia. Image from LENSCRATCH.

Sound artist Alan Nakagawa has launched what he describes as a “participatory haiku project.” He is stitching submitted haikus about social isolation into a performance art sound collage, available on IGTV after April 23rd. Ryan Gander, a UK-based installation and sculpture artist, offered an in-depth tour of his studio via Zoom in a more visual approach. As he showed viewers the unsettling, apocalyptic art he made before the COVID-19 crisis, Gander reflected on the current situation: “We see things in context and their meaning changes. It is interesting the way that art changes as the world changes around it.”

Others are starting broader cultural conversations about the pandemic. On April 17th, 1,800 digital billboards around New York City were filled with public artwork celebrating essential workers and encouraging everyone else to stay at home. Featured artists included Paul Sahre, Matt Dorfman, and Maira Kalman. The works were displayed on donated ad space and made in collaboration with Poster House, Times Square Arts, PRINT, and For Freedoms. 

“It was only natural for New York organizations to… [bring] together the power of mass communication and public art, then magnifying it with our gratitude,” said Poster House’s Julia Knight.

Art by Moira Kalman in New York City. Image from Fast Company.
Art by Maira Kalman in New York City. Image from Fast Company.

Contemporary artists are also supporting each other in the market. A growing initiative called the Artist Support Pledge encourages rising artists to buy each other’s work. Orchestrated through Instagram, artists tag a piece with #artistsupportpledge and price it below $230. If their total sales cross a certain threshold, they must re-invest the original $230 into another artist’s work. The pledge has already seen over 100 entries from rising creatives. 

Several prominent artists have also created work to benefit public health. Damien Hirst developed a colorful series of rainbows to benefit Britain’s National Health Service. Limited-edition prints, designed to be hung in windows in a show of support, were available on the artist’s Instagram page. Additionally, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts will collaborate with Christie’s to offer an online sale of 60 Warhol photographs. Open for bids between April 28th and May 6th, the auction will benefit an emergency relief fund for artists in need. Auction Daily will continue to cover how artists adapt and respond to the global pandemic as the topic develops.