Art Market

Museums, Curators, and Artists Find Innovative Solutions for Showing Art in a Pandemic

Annie Armstrong
Mar 19, 2020 10:04PM

An employee walks next to Martin Desjardins’s Quatre Captifs in the Musee du Louvre, Paris, closed to the public indefinitely amid concerns on the COVID-19 outbreak, 2020. Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images.

We’re several weeks into the COVID-19 crisis, and by now, most art institutions worldwide have either already closed or are about to close for the indefinite future. As governments around the world are mandating businesses to close and group gatherings to disperse, galleries and artists are taking a hit without sales to be made, and museums are left without the ability to host events or sell tickets.

That’s not to say people aren’t getting industrious. Many institutions have turned to the vast potential of the internet to keep things ticking. One of the first to implement an online exhibition was the Beijing-based X Museum, which has postponed its opening but enlisted artist Pete Jiadong Qiang to create a gamified online museum experience.

“Online exhibitions will have their place in the future, and the epidemic accelerated the process,” the artist explained. “I would rather not have a specific boundary between online and offline, virtual and physical, especially for an emerging contemporary museum in Beijing.”

This trend hasn’t just come about in relation to the coronavirus, however. Google Arts & Culture has, for many years now, been compiling virtual tours of museums around the world. With Google Arts & Culture, you can tour over 500 art institutions worldwide, such as the Guggenheim, London’s National Gallery, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, and many others.

Social distance and social media

Portrait of Corinne Mazzoli by Luca Pili. Courtesy of #ARTISTSINQUARANTINE.


As the bored and art-deprived masses are itching to get back into art spaces, these online tours seem to be gaining in popularity. In fact, the hashtag #MuseumFromHome has been circulating on social media since local governments have been advising quarantine, with museums tweeting the different ways people at home can see their works. “The museum may be closed and we all may be social distancing,” read a tweet from the University of Southern California’s Fisher Museum of Art. “But the beauty of technology and social media (which is not always so lovely) is that we can bring the museum both past and present into your homes.”

A newcomer to Google Arts & Culture’s roster of virtual offerings is the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence, which was forced to close its doors to the coronavirus at the beginning of March. In one of the first of many virtual tours of museums that will be recorded in the coming weeks and months, the gallery shared a video in which senior director Eike Schmidt walks viewers through the galleries, and confidently declares (translated from Italian): “Although the museums have had to close their exhibits, art and culture does not stop.”

Installation view at the Uffizi Gallery, 2018. Courtesy of the Uffizi Gallery.

Schmidt calls the program the “Uffizi Decameron,” a play on the famous 14th-century, plague-era novel The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. He continues: “Everyday we’ll be telling you about the stories, the works, and the characters in our beautiful museum, to virtually unite everyone for the sake of art and culture. The treasures in the Uffizi, the Palazzo Pitti, and the Giardino di Boboli will be with you in your home, so we can together overcome this difficult time.”

Aside from museums and gallery spaces, do-it-yourself online art exhibitions have been cropping up around the world. For instance, in Italy, curator Giada Pellicari launched #ArtistsinQuarantine, an initiative that combats the economic pause in a region that has seen one of the longest runs of closures from the pandemic, with institutions such as the Scuderie del Quirinale—which had been hosting a blockbuster exhibition of work by Raphael—as well as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Fondazione Prada, Galleria Borghese, Capitoline Museums, and the aforementioned Uffizi, to name just a few.

“I conceived this project due to the anxiety, fear, and anger that I felt the night of March 7th, when many journals published a draft of the Decrete by the Italian Ministry regarding the emanation of some red restricted areas in Italy,” Pellicari told Artsy.

Portrait of Sophie Westerlind by Filippo Romano. Courtesy of #ARTISTSINQUARANTINE.

Portrait of Vera Portatadino. Courtesy of #ARTISTSINQUARANTINE.

For the online exhibition, works by 12 artists who live in these red areas are going up for sale on the Instagram account @artistsinquarantine. “The artists will present, in some cases, new works exclusively conceived for the frame of Instagram,” Pellicari said. “I felt the urgency to create a new project that could show the way that the artistic scene was affected due to the coronavirus.”

“For many artists,” she added, “lots of projects, exhibitions, travels, artistic residencies, and appointments have suddenly been deleted, causing a drastic drop of the opportunities for the incoming two months at least. For us, this is a historical moment of severe criticality and economic [uncertainty], where art and the artists become at risk and appear to be more fragile.”

Also, amid fears that the global art market may slow down, many sales are still expected to occur online. For instance, Art Basel in Hong Kong, which announced its cancellation in early February, launched online viewing rooms this week. The satellite fair Art Central, which also canceled its 2020 edition, is likewise bringing sales online for participating galleries. (Full disclosure: Artsy is partnering with Art Central and will be serving as the platform for its online sales.) Many galleries have also put their offerings online.

Thinking of art in trying times

Dread Scott, Redistribute Health, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.

Judith Bernstein, Money Shot (Yellow), 2016. Courtesy of the artist.

In New York—where restrictions have been placed on gatherings of more than 50 people, and where most galleries are either closed outright or only open by appointment—a similar show has cropped up. Curated by Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen, the online exhibition “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” launched on March 17th and will grow as the pandemic goes on. It kicked off with a roster of seven artists and duos—Judith Bernstein, Zhao Zhao, Kathe Burkhart, Miao Ying, Janet Biggs, and Dread Scott & Jenny Polak—and a new artist’s work will be added every day after the opening.

The exhibition’s website “is operating parallel to the market at a time when so many exhibitions have been halted,” its announcement noted. The site does not handle any sales, and there are no sponsors or fees for the participating artists, but links to participating artists’ galleries and websites are included.

Lynn Hershman, still from Seduction of a Cyborg, 1996. Courtesy of the artist.

“What was amazing is that we started asking artists to participate at like, 11 o’clock last Friday night,” Pollock told Artsy. “People had responded by Saturday morning.” She and Verhallen said they curated the show, with 20 artists lined up, in just about 48 hours before putting their heads together to build out the site.

“The beauty of these online exhibitions is that it’s a global exhibition, and it’s accessible to everyone,” Pollack continued. “I’m hoping that all of these websites and Instagram accounts link up to each other so that we can really start a global dialogue. Making sure that we have a diverse group of voices is incredibly important to me at this time.”

Annie Armstrong