How the Experience of Viewing Art Has Adapted in the Coronavirus Era
The coronavirus outbreak has brought the world to a standstill, disrupting every aspect of our lives. Besides the industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic, such as aviation, tourism, and restaurants, the art industry has also suffered a severe blow. In accordance with government health guidelines, museums and galleries have been closed, art fairs both in Israel and around the world have been canceled, and exhibitions have been postponed until further notice. This has hurt not only institutions and collectors, but also the artists themselves.
Nevertheless, as one would expect from the art world, several creative online initiatives have consequently emerged. Art venues and entrepreneurs in Israel and abroad have been seeking novel ways to satisfy public demand for art, even when seemingly impossible.
Below is a brief rundown of these initiatives. While none of them substitute an unmediated experience with art, they nevertheless offer some interesting alternatives, allowing for a unique encounter between the observer and art in a virtual space.
Even With Museums Closed, Virtual Doors Have Opened
Let’s start with Italy, where museums have been offering virtual tours of their collections despite having been hit hard by the coronavirus. The Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome was forced to close to the public just three days after its grand opening of an exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of the death of Renaissance artist Raphael. However, it kept its virtual gates open. Its YouTube channel and website contain filmed tours of the Raffaello exhibit in addition to activities and content for children. Over the summer of 2020, the gallery was even able to grant physical access to the public, though limited to strict restrictions.
The Castello di Rivoli Museum in Turin also launched a digital platform. Known as Digital Cosmos, the platform includes works of art in stills and video, accompanied by explanations of the creative process behind them. In addition, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence offers virtual tours and has increased its activity on Instagram and Facebook. As of September 2020, both museums have again been opened in accordance with relevant health guidelines.
Other art institutions in Europe have implemented digital tools to keep their audiences engaged as well. The Louvre Museum in Paris was one of the first to close its gates to avoid exposure to visitors from around the world. Before the museum reopened in the summer of 2020, it made available 360-degree images of the Mona Lisa and other spectacular works on its website, accompanied by in-depth explanations.
In Spain, the Dalí Theater-Museum in Catalonia curated a detailed virtual tour dedicated to the works of Salvador Dalí. The museum is divided into different wings and rooms where you can take a tour of the stages of Dali’s life while observing his paintings. Although this museum has now reopened as well, some claim that the virtual experience is very similar to a physical visit.
In addition, the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan has been offering an opportunity to marvel at its architectural structure besides its virtual display of modern art. It is scheduled to reopen on October 3rd with new measurements and requirements in place.
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul, Korea is also accessible online with art collections spanning across six floors. It, too, has now reopened with a requirement of advanced booking.
Enjoying Art From Home in Israel
The Tel Aviv Museum of Art was forced to close its doors shortly after opening the first-ever Jeff Koons exhibit in Israel. However, it managed to curate a virtual tour just before the outbreak of the pandemic. The museum’s Vimeo channel contains about 170 videos, which include tours of the exhibit and gallery talks. The museum’s director, Tania Coen-Uzielli, viewed the situation as an opportunity to update and enrich the museum’s digital platforms. During the weeks of the lockdown, the museum staff photographed new works, documented 360-degree exhibitions, and created new platforms around the collection.
The Haifa Museums also made it possible for the public to remain involved from home. In addition to virtual guided tours, the Haifa Museums shared online lectures offering a unique, behind-the-scenes glimpse of exhibitions and work by curators. The public was also invited to participate in recorded creative workshops, such as Origami Mobile, Stop-Motion Animation, and Quilling. The Museums’ shops sold children’s craft kits, art booklets, and puzzles for hands-on play.
Art venues have not been alone in their endeavor to make art accessible during the pandemic. In recent months, a number of interesting and inspiring independent initiatives have also emerged. One of these was developed by Lior Zalmanson, who founded a Facebook group dedicated to art and culture aficionados to provide a virtual alternative to physical encounters. The group, called Culture in the Coronavirus Era, was inspired by the effort being made by schools to transition to remote learning. It has allowed anyone passionate about art to continue to hold discussions about art, attend conferences on Zoom, and initiate virtual lectures and discussions.
An additional independent initiative is Degorla, launched by entrepreneur Dekel Nachman. Just before Israel tightened its restrictions, Nachman accompanied his mother, photographer Mira Nachman, to an exhibition that she was running. He noticed the daily decrease in the number of visitors and sought a way to keep the exhibitions going. Nachman quickly approached several galleries, recruited a small team, and set up a website displaying artwork using 360-degree technology. Visitors can wander around selected parts of each exhibition and observe works from different angles and distances. Nachman’s new platform was received with great enthusiasm by artists and art venues, many of which now display their works and collections on the website. These include established galleries such as Gordon, Rosenfeld, Chelouche, The Center for Contemporary Art (CCA), and the Tel Aviv Museum. For now, viewing is available to all and free of charge.