Art

Art in the time of Covid 19: ‘Online viewing rooms are like groping in the dark’

Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks at The Louvre

Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks at The Louvre  

As curators think beyond the white cube and museums go digital with rare collections, a more imaginative use of the online space is needed

In February, six months after hidden images were discovered in Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks painting, a new X-ray scan revealed a winged angel and the baby Jesus. But with the current travel restrictions, the art fraternity will have to wait to see it. Though The Louvre ventured into virtual reality — in partnership with HTC Vive Arts, on the occasion of the painter’s 500-year death anniversary last year — the experience is still offline. This could, however, change soon in a post Covid-19 world.

Meanwhile, another artist’s work is lending itself beautifully to online viewing. Starry Starry Nights is one of the most forwarded videos on WhatsApp and YouTube — a visual rendering of a seamless blend of all of Dutch post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh’s important works, including the eponymous one he painted in 1889 during his stay at the asylum of Saint-Paul de Mausole. There is also a growing interest in the animated 2017 Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman film, Loving Vincent (watch it on Amazon Prime Video).

A Moche ear ornament, featuring a winged runner, at The MET

A Moche ear ornament, featuring a winged runner, at The MET  

Insider take
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai: “They’ve been doing weekly bulletins and putting out rare collections, including the Anwar-i-Suhayli (above), a Persian translation of Kalilah-wa-Damnah, an Arabic version of the Panchtantra,” says Hoskote. Details: csmvs.in
  • Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademy: It is drawing on its archives of interviews, films and lectures to create interesting online experiences. Details: lalitkalachandigarh.com
  • Coronavirus Artpocalypse: A group of artists from Baroda, Jaipur and other art-school cities have come together to create YouTube broadcasts that share their paintings, and poetry by the likes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Marathi poet BS Mardhekar.
  • The Ganesh Shivaswamy Foundation: “To commemorate 150 years of Ravi Varm, we’ve partnered with the foundation — which has also brought together 10-12 important private and public collections, including the ones at the Mysore Palace and Baroda Palace. The virtual collection of 150 paintings will be launched soon on Google Arts & Culture,” says Apparao.
  • Experimenter Radio: Kolkata’s Experimenter Art Gallery has a dedicated Spotify channel, with playlists featuring current favourites of artists, writers, curators and collaborators from around the world.

No longer reserved

With travel restrictions and social distancing likely to be the norm for some time to come, the new status quo demands change. In the world of art, this has meant podcasts, art blogs, live streaming, virtual exhibitions, and short films to hold our interest in the upcoming art calendar. It has also meant access to rare collections. Istanbul University recently opened Sultan Abdülhamid II’s Yıldız Photography Collection, one of the richest visual archives in the world, on digital media.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has put thousands of objects online for free viewing, most of which were in its reserved collection. “Art, like every other sector, is focussing on its digital presence,” says Bhavna Kakar, director of Gallery Latitude 28 and editor-publisher of TAKE on Art. The task in hand: to re-establish the various mediums — painting, sculpture, performance and photography — to maintain its relevance and have global impact, while being physically absent.

Bhavna Kakar, director of Gallery Latitude 28

Bhavna Kakar, director of Gallery Latitude 28   | Photo Credit: Rammohan Pateriya

Think digital
  • With Art Dubai being rescheduled to 2021, Kakar’s artists like Niyeti Chadha Kannal and Noor Ali Chagani are featured in the fair’s online catalogue, which is open to the public. She and her team are also working on facilitating a virtual viewing of their exhibition, The Print: Matter in Matrix, with an e-catalogue and a video walk-through uploaded on their social media channels.
  • In fact, video walk-throughs are becoming the staple. Vadehra Art Gallery, Art Alive, India Art Festival and many others are regularly planning these, especially for shows that were on the cusp of premiering before the pandemic shut everything down. Renu Modi, director of Gallery Espace, recently joined a digital showcase extended by Art Basel Hong Kong, which was forced to cancel its annual fair.

Qualitative differences

The online space is not uncharted territory for the art world, but it does hold more promise now. Whether it can successfully surrogate the white cube and physical viewing of an artwork, however, remains to be seen. “In the aftermath of anything drastic, such as the Renaissance or World War II, there has always been a revival, but it is too early to say what it will be for Covid-19. With consumption going down, and only virtual options available for some time to come, there may not be a space for people like us. That is when we will have to rethink,” says Chennai-based gallerist and curator Sharan Apparao, who feels “viewing rooms are a little like groping in the dark. So, at the moment, I’m relying on our reputation, our network of artists and collectors, and social media”.

Art critic and curator, Ranjit Hoskote, feels that while the online experience has become a little more defined — you can focus on the work that you want to, and do it at your own time — it can’t be a stand-in for physically being there. “Online studio visits are qualitatively different. It is a question of temporality: when you visit someone at their studio, the encounter unfolds in a certain way, but when you have a Zoom meeting, predefined as 40 minutes, it is so very different. In one sense, it may be far more sharply defined, but there is also a pressure to get quickly to the outcome,” he says. The more real problem now for curators like himself is freight. “The next question is, if we don’t have the possibility of transporting things, how are exhibitions going to happen?”

With inputs from Surya Praphulla Kumar

Quick 3 with Anoop Kamath

The writer-editor-publisher of Matters of Art on making sense of art online

Art insider: In India, online platforms have not found the success they deserve because they are late bloomers. Apart from a couple of platforms like Saffronart, they haven’t been aggressive enough. But in these times, artists can try to exhibit their collections in online platforms for better visibility.

Rare collections: For young collectors, I’d recommend new or middle-level artists. I’d pick 10 to 15 works from these artists rather than a single work of a master. Also, watch out for ‘distress sales’.

Challenges: Artists will have to be careful in budgeting their works — choose to work with economical mediums and keep the price of artworks affordable. Smaller works are attractive on online platforms.

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Printable version | Jun 1, 2020 3:24:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/art-in-the-time-of-covid-19-online-viewing-rooms-are-like-groping-in-the-dark/article31372791.ece

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