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Art in the times of COVID-19

2020 was supposed to be a fruitful year for the art industry. Commencing with the India Art Fair in late January and early February, several artists were able to show their talent to the general masses, and many art deals were promised. However, the gradual yet continuous spread of the coronavirus in India resulted in the nationwide lockdown for more than two months. Consequently, the art industry, too, was struck hard with the decision as all the art galleries, museums, and other spaces had to be shut. According to a FICCI-KPMG report published in 2017, the value of the Indian art market in monetary terms was evaluated at 14.6 million dollars. Even so, at present, the certainty and growth of the art industry are undetermined. Nevertheless, it was an unpleasant but mandatory decision to shut the art museums, galleries, and other cultural places.

A forlorn turn of events

The lockdown resulted in losses and a nationwide lull was observed. Not only upcoming exhibitions were postponed or cancelled altogether, but a plethora of present artworks displayed in galleries and exhibition spaces could not be sold as well. While some galleries managed to sell a few artworks, mostly to generate funds to combat the pandemic, others were hardly able to sell a single work of art. Above all, the pandemic has resulted in financial losses, and these losses are somewhat causing an increase in mental health crisis all around the world. The art community, too, is suffering from this. Subsequently, as exhibitions are either cancelled or shifted to an uncertain date, several visual artists are trying to deal with the pressure and stress. With the rise of social distancing, sessions of portrait and model sittings cease to exist today as people are rarely stepping outside their houses.

Going digital

Several art fairs and festivals have been cancelled, such as the Art Basel, which had to cancel its annual edition in Switzerland this year. However, even after facing harsh conditions, the art world has been making the best of these trying times. The biggest change observed in the industry was to go digital. Cultural institutions, as well as art museums and galleries, are pitching on virtual tours and digital captivating experiences to strengthen viewership. While opting to go online isn’t brand new entirely, the way art galleries and museums are tackling it is something worth mentioning.

The Delhi Art Gallery has raised INR 1 Crore for the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 51 artworks by eminent artists such as MF Hussain, Krishen Khanna, Jamini Roy, and others, were sold within 2 days. Subsequently, the amount will be to the PM CARES fund and the Chief Minister’s relief fund.

The Frieze Art Fair, New York, went online from May 8- May 15, 2020. Their online viewing room served as the virtual exhibition space for various artists who presented their works there. In India, too, galleries and museums have been coping up with the pandemic in a positive way. Launching their own online exhibition viewing rooms, such as the Nature Morte art gallery, which is currently exhibiting Tanya Goel’s collection, they are providing the general audience to witness these exhibitions at the comfort of their homes. There are some galleries which are providing the online exhibitions for free, and there are galleries that are charging a ticket for the online shows.

‘In Touch’ is a group exhibition launched by 10 galleries from Delhi and Dubai. It will run from 24th April to 24th July 2020. Each gallery has exhibited 12 works, which includes paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other installations, by well-known artists such as Arpita Singh, the late Madan Mahatta, Bharti Kher, Abir Karmakar and Aditi Singh. Chemould Prescott Road Mumbai, a part of the exhibition presents their show ‘Out-site/Insight’. The artworks are a response to the pandemic. Therefore, their show ‘Out-site / Insight’ showcases work made by artists in the moment of lockdown. The PHOTOINK gallery in New Delhi has gone online with their exhibition, taking inspiration from a selection of Maya Angelou’s poem ‘A Brave and Startling Truth’.

Moreover, the National Museum, New Delhi, has also gone digital with plenty of online exhibitions. These are briefly explained collections of slides. For instance, ‘Nauras: The Many Arts of The Deccan’ talks about the rich arts and composite cultures produced by the Deccani Sultanates in India from the 15th to the 18th centuries respectively. There are many presentations which can be viewed for reference. Their online exhibition ‘Ramayan in Indian Miniatures’ is a visual display of how the Ramayana has been portrayed in various Indian miniature painting styles such as the Pahari, Rajasthani, Deccani, Central Indian and Mughal.

Art and the indoors

As the whole world sits at home, people have found solitude in several indoor activities, and art is getting value more than ever. Art is considered to be therapeutic and can help to create a positive outlook as well. A lot of individuals have taken up drawing, painting, sketching and other artistic activities. Creating art in itself bestows a beautiful feeling of content and satisfaction, hence considered therapeutic. Art colleges and institutions have been handing out assignments that students can complete at their homes and submit them via email or other online means.

With the rise of Zoom web calls and virtual seminars, online art workshops, tutorials, talks and classes are witnessing a surge as well. Emami Art and Kolkata Institute of Art Conversation (a unit of Anamika Kala Sangam Trust) will start their ‘KIAC Masterclass’ from 27th June- 29th June 2020. The Masterclass will be taught by experts in the Indian art field, such as Amitabh Sengupta, Anupam Chakraborty, and Mridu Moucham Bora. The online series of talks will highlight India’s ancient as well as modern artistic practices and traditions. Several online workshops are teaching people various forms of Indian folk arts such as Kalamkari, Madhubani, and Pattachitra, to name a few.

Present Scenario

As of now, a few art galleries throughout India are opening their doors with full safety precautions. The Dhoomimal Art Gallery opened on May 18 and has been working on every alternate day. Other art galleries such as the Gallery Pioneer, Vadhera Art Gallery, Shrine Empire Gallery, and Gallery 1000A have started welcoming people with essential precautions. Even though the galleries are reopening, it will cost them a significant amount of money.

Reviving major museums and galleries amid a period of social distancing will require a significant, if not massive amount of money to be spent on a minuscule number of individuals. An open exhibition hall would be a sign that life is coming back to normal(pre-COVID-19 times). The best path for exhibition halls to contact their crowd right currently is on the web. If historical centres and galleries centre assets on online guests instead of physical ones presently, and make the most out of the tremendous modern groups of onlookers, they will discover indeed more individuals needing to visit in person when the widespread is over.

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