One must look no further than Sci-Fi classics such as Blade Runner or Back to the Future to know that by 2020 we were supposed to be living in a world full of flying cars, holograms, and Self-Lacing Nikes. Our reality is instead much closer to a world described by Contagion. In the midst of a pandemic, humanity has been forced back inside; scrolling through social media, re-watching the Office, and using video chat services such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime to connect with everyone from bosses to loved ones. Looking at the pandemic through the lens of my own industry, I wondered: what are the implications of Covid-19 for the artists and the greater world of Fine Art? Historically, in times of unrest, artists have often flocked to creative havens like the salons of Paris after World War I, or in New York’s ‘Village’ in the wake of World War II. More recently the emergence of the Young British Artists in London has seen young artists coming together during art school. What do all of these moments of explosive creativity have in common and what does it have to do with living life six feet apart?
In my Master’s dissertation for Sotheby’s Institute of Art, I looked extensively at the statistical significance of groupings within the Pop Art Movement, comparing the fortunes of British Pop Artists and their American counterparts. I defined Network Strength as being based on “shared galleries, shared education, and any shared groups or connections within the movement.” Combining aggregate scores of network strength, institutional prestige, and market rating, I was able to create a multivariate hybrid index comparing the two adjacent movements. While the British Pop Art Movement predated the Americans, it was not Richard Hamilton that has become a market bell-weather, but instead Andy Warhol who found significance in the local proximity of the group of American’s living in New York City in the 60’s.
In today’s context, what will happen when artists are contained to their living spaces? The ability for artists to group in any manner has been taken away, or at the very least, restricted to six feet due to stringent quarantine measures around the world. In the wake of social distancing and a worldwide lockdown, galleries have been forced to adopt new ways of connecting with both artists and buyers with virtual gallery visits, salons, artist talks, round tables, art fairs, and openings. So how have artists coped with being alone?
During my own time in lockdown, I reached out to artists in both the US and UK practicing in a range of different mediums and creative fields to survey how they’re connecting with each other and with the wider art world at this time. I chose to speak with artists at the beginning of their careers as it is during this time that they are most likely to create meaningful connections and/or networks of fellow artists and art world contacts.
With the absence of studio space and their own proverbial East Village haunts, today’s artists have banded together online. Charlie Goering and Alex Lewis touched on the topic of the absence of gallery space and how artists have found new and creative ways to collaborate from isolation. Goering provided his own unique insight as an artist based almost solely on Instagram by noting that he has utilized the platform to build a following and connect with artists prior to the international lockdown. Long accustomed to facilitating sales, connecting with galleries and keeping up with other artists nationally and internationally, Goering noted that “without Instagram I am not so sure I would have the confidence to live and work outside New York or Los Angeles.” As a student, Lewis benefitted greatly from his school community with Zoom sessions with his fellow classmates, noting that there was a diminishment in effectiveness to these sessions when students would turn off their camera, a new social faux-pas borne out of the increased use of video chats. Like Goering, Lewis also noted having used Instagram to reach out to other artists not previously contacted on Instagram.
On a larger scale, in a recent article, the Art Newspaper’s Louisa Buck highlighted the #artistsupportpledge, a charitable initiative created by artist Matthew Burrows in support of fellow artists and makers. Every time an artist reaches £1,000 of sales, they pledge to buy £200 of work from other artists. Having raised nearly £20 million, the #artistsupportpledge on Instagram has garnered over 100,000 posts. Providing an accessible platform for all artists, regardless of gallery, practice, or connections to help each other through tough times, the Artist Support Pledge is the arts community at its best. Other creative projects born from Covid-19 include the aptly named Shelter in Place Gallery, a platform created by Eben Haines to allow artists to submit miniaturized versions to larger works to be displayed in a model structure. With large scale art hard to create at home, Haines’ was able to support the Greater Boston community of artists with help from a grant from the City of Boston by providing artists with a stipend and a way to create and show work. In a more whimsical solution to the lack of gallery space, artist Nicole Shinn launched a show based on the hit video game “Animal Crossing, New Horizons” with artists pixelating their art into works to be hung in a virtual space, with even an interpretation of Marina Abramovic’s The Village is Present showing on “opening night” in the game. Subverting the limited space of a bricks and mortar gallery, Shinn’s use of Animal Crossing allowed her to include over 20 other artists, a feat many galleries could not accommodate on their wall space.
Despite being forced to create makeshift studios at home, artists have also been blessed with even more time to think and create works in their newfound surroundings. Alex Lewis, and Yulia Iosilzon provided insight on how quarantine has affected their ability to create works without access to their studios by finding ways to work at home, or, in Lewis’ case, investing in a pottery wheel and finding a garage to create a makeshift workspace. Iosilzon on the other hand, was able to use her new found free time to find a small Italian manufacturer to fulfill a long-held idea to place her works on bespoke blankets. Others like Armand Kazem found himself more aware of social unrest during this time, referencing both the Black Lives Matter Protests and the annexation of the West Bank. Expounding on this further and how it affected his own work, Kazem stated “that one of the main aims is to talk to people” and also, “it (art) should be something more”, referencing such things as climate change or wealth inequality.
While many artists have grown accustomed to posting their works on Instagram, the loss of wall space has forced many to meet new challenges of placing their work in the new digital world. Touching upon this, Iosilzon noted that learning how to best represent her works in a virtual viewing room posed a new challenge, a newfound conundrum facing artists and the wider art world. Despite technologies best efforts, digitizing an artwork can still prove to be challenging, painstakingly combing the work on a screen for colour discrepancies, issues with lighting, and ensuring the work is presented in a manner that attempts to replicate the walls of the gallery. While many of the top galleries and auction houses were able to provide these virtual services pre-lockdown, Loic Gouzer has progressed further into the digital space by rolling out Fair Warning, a new invite-only app-based auction that offers a single lot to its users to purchase at one time. Gouzer’s foray into the online marketplace is intriguing as its success may signal to others a new route away from the traditional auction/gallery space. While many smaller galleries have been slow to take on the costly practice of digitizing their works, quarantine has forced many to reevaluate their position. Relying on their wall spaces and PDF’s to sell work, many were unaccustomed to the process of digitizing artworks and as a result have had to rapidly learn how to adapt – eschewing time consuming and oftentimes expensive three dimensional virtual spaces for live “viewings” on Facebook Live or Instagram Live.
In 1977 Andy Warhol wrote in his memoir: “they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” In the past, creatives like Fitzgerald sat with Picasso in the salons of Paris, Warhol shared drinks with Merce Cunningham in Greenwich Village, Angus Fairhurst invited Damien Hirst to show with him in London. In 2020, drawing on new sources of network strength in the absence of coffeeshops, bars, galleries or studios, today’s artists have been forced back into the confines of their homes. But with this new-normal comes an opportunity for explosive creativity, in both art and digital connections. It seems artists will always find a way to create (even if that means a slightly more cluttered kitchen table, repurposed garage, or a video game). Artists are making the most of it, utilizing this time to check-in with their peers, discuss social unrest, helping other artists, and meeting new people. Coupled with the art world’s move to digital, this signals we might be getting closer to that 2020 we were supposed to be living in… flying cars, Self-Lacing Nikes, and all. Today’s young artist communities are creating a way forward.
Currently based in the United States, Skylar Breiner graduated from Wittenberg University with a degree in Political Science; Chinese Foreign Policy. Transitioning from his background in policy, Breiner took a job at Art Design Consultant’s, becoming interim Business Director. Wanting to continue his education in Fine Art, Breiner pursued an Art Business degree from Sotheby’s Institute of Art ’s Master’s Program in London where he graduated with distinction. For his dissertation he created a multivariable index ranking British and American Pop Artists based on their network, net worth, and institutional representation. Having recently interned at ArtVisor, he is excited to continue collaborating within the Fine Art space.