As the rules around exhibitions of art are being rewritten as a result of the coronavirus, what potential do digital platforms hold for galleries today?
Gallery Espace | Renu Modi
With galleries and museums shut all over the globe, and art fairs and biennales postponing or cancelling this year’s editions, the coronavirus pandemic has hit the art world hard. It may sound pessimistic, but I don’t see the situation improving for the next one year at least - not until we have a vaccine and people can feel safe going out in public spaces again.
But in situations such as these it is even more important for galleries like ours, with a long-term vision, to carry on - to support artists, to continue to show art and to keep in touch with patrons. In all of this, the online space has emerged as a great tool. We’ve already done two digital shows - ‘Earth Song’ on Artsy, and another on the ‘In Touch’ web platform, which is a partnership between 10 galleries from India and Dubai. We’ve had mixed responses, commercially, to the shows; that’s expected since the entire economy is in a bad shape. But there have been enquiries from new buyers, which is a welcome sign.
The online space is also very handy for education and spreading awareness - to this end, we’ve started ‘Espace Conversations’, a programme of live conversations about art, and #artinyourespace, a series of videos of artists talking about the art they own.
Traditional galleries, like ours, must change their mindsets to keep up with these shifts. In a sense the lockdown, has made us more proactive. Digital shows help us reach new audiences and new geographies. But I come from a different generation and art for me has to be experienced in person for its full power to be felt. The screen doesn’t do justice to art. But I can see that online shows will play a larger role in our functioning in the days to come. Already, in just a few months, the digital interface has improved considerably - you can now zoom in, zoom out, walk around the work of art like you would in a gallery. I am sure we’ll see slicker and more sophisticated presentations in the days to come.
I remember the first time I encountered the Kindle on an international flight many years ago. How comfortably people were reading, the sheer joy of flipping through pages replaced by the technology in their hand. So it will be with art I don’t doubt.
Vadehra Art Gallery | Roshini Vadehra
At a time when the ‘c’ word is foremost on everyone’s mind, the need of the hour is Change (innovation in work practice) and, more than ever, to work Collectively and Collaboratively. At Vadehra, we are using all our digital tools to stay Connected with our audiences. The need of the hour is also to think beyond the Commercial and instead simply innovate in ways of reaching out to our Community.
We have started a lovely series through our newsletters and our social media, called ‘Thoughts from the Studio’, with letters from artists on how they are spending time during the quarantine. The artists have shared intimate works and moments from this quiet time, which our audience has loved getting an insight into. We also did a series called ‘Living with Art’ where collectors shared their living spaces and their favourite artworks that they are quarantined with.
More recently, we have collaborated with nine other galleries on In Touch, a wonderful initiative of galleries doing an online exhibition, working together to reach out to art lovers in India and abroad. The theme of our presentation as part of the online exhibition is No Man is an Island, borrowed from the title of Arpita Singh’s drawing. This title carries forward the idea of collaboration perfectly. We present a lovely mix of works from the gallery inventory and works that artists have offered specifically for this initiative, such as those by Arpita Singh, Anju Dodiya and Shilpa Gupta. Special attention has been paid to offer works that are attractive in pricing and scale, since we expect the digital platform to work well in that range of works.
More than ever, it is time for the art world to come together to also extend help to the less fortunate. In Together, a wonderful artist-led initiative to help migrant workers is being facilitated by our foundation, FICA, where 100% of the proceeds go to Goonj and Karwan-e-Mohabbat, two NGOs who are working extensively to alleviate the crisis caused by Covid-19 and the nationwide lockdown on migrant workers as well as vulnerable members of our country. This campaign is also being run purely through digital channels.
Nature Morte | Aparjita Jain
Coronavirus taught us all, in every walk of life, that survival depends on adaptability. Within a short four weeks, the world has been forced to reevaluate what we do, how we do it and if we want to do it. For once, art has had to abide to those restrictions and unsaid rules. I do think having a digital presence is important and needs to be looked at carefully. I think platforms like Critical Collective foresaw the inevitable change, and started addressing the need for a digital presence.
Most galleries have websites in India today, but I don’t know if people paid much attention to them. Now, however, I don’t think we have a choice. I don’t see people travelling for art or coming to social openings around art till a vaccine or a cure is discovered. On the other hand, artists will produce art, and we will have to find a way of still sharing it. Eventually, I think all viewing will be a balance of both - physical and digital. And hence, yes, coronavirus may just have altered art viewing forever.
Emami Art | Richa Agarwal
Emami Art had to temporarily close its Gallery and the centre due to the current pandemic. Being confined at home, the digital platform has become the most sought-after avenue to remain connected with the world.
One of the projects we are excited to talk about is ‘Black and White and More’, a select online exhibition showcasing some of the finest monochromatic artworks of eminent artists like Jogen Chowdhury, Rabin Mondal, S. G. Vasudev, Dashrath Patel, Bose Krishnamachari, Manu Parekh and many more. In order to safeguard the livelihoods of those who are the worst impacted, the profits will be donated to people who are unable to practice social distancing or obtain access to proper sanitation.
We recently conducted our first series of open-access online conversations titled ‘Emami Art Talks - Conversations’. Innovatively conceptualised to bring some of the inspirational names from the world of art to the viewers in an informal setting in one’s own home over a six-day live webinar sessions became an instant hit. The panel included artists Arunima Choudhury & Gautam Chowdhury; Pranati Panda & Jagannath Panda;PoojaIranna & G R Iranna; Mithu Sen & Samit Das; writers, curators and cultural theorists Nancy Adajania & Ranjit Hoskote; and gallerists Tara Lal & Mortimer Chatterjee. The interactions aimed to inspire young artists and explore what drives people in the art fraternity. We have plans to continue with ‘Emami Art Talks’ every month from now on and in the next series, we plan to arrange a talk with curators and what they perceive about art today.
We are also launching the ‘Emami Art Mentorship Programme’ which is being created in collaboration with curator Ushmita Sahu and this initiative stems from two principal factors: to create a network of established names in the art world who are willing to mentor young and upcoming art professionals. The mentors on board for the first edition are Atul Dodiya, Ranjit Hoskote, Nikhil Chopra and Mortimer Chatterjee.
Shrine Empire Gallery | Anahita Taneja and Shefali Somani
As we are all caught in the midst of a global pandemic, digital platforms made available by the Internet are our only mode of contact with each other, allowing us to retain a semblance of the lives we led formerly. In these times, it is important to rethink our activities, especially in the arts, a precarious industry that is severely affected by the lockdown, yet is able to provide many insights and ideas on this crisis. Cognizant of this unique standpoint that the art world represents, we at Shrine Empire conceived our first online exhibition 'Speculations on a New World Order'. Curated by Anushka Rajendran, the exhibition attempts to highlight the extent to which artists can contribute to discourse during this unique moment in time, as we are confronting the civilizational oversights that have got us here.
As part of another online initiative, we have a series focusing on how Shrine artists are spending their time during Covid-19 lockdown. Several of our artists are at a crossroads in their practice, with limited access to resources for their work, and other responsibilities such as childcare and the concerns of local communities around them, who are more affected by the lockdown. This has been a way to encourage them, and also archive the impact of this unique moment in history. This does not discount the importance of physically encountering artworks or the spatial experience of exhibitions, but through these efforts, we have discovered ways to support artists and other workers in the industry whose economies have also been severely affected.
Experimenter | Prateek and Priyanka Raja
While there cannot be any alternative to seeing and experiencing art in all its physical manifestations, digital platforms can have significant reach, increase viewership, cross-pollinate audiences and help access new and younger spectators.
So far the focus of the digital space in the arts has been to supplement commercial activities in the form of online viewing rooms, acting as an art website to consolidate artworks for sale and online auctions, to an extent. We feel that those faculties are going to be crucial going ahead. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence, spatial mapping and experiential customization may not anymore be the prerogative of high-end tech companies but something that may become a part of the everyday.
Reaching out to artists in need, using internet connectivity to benefit art production and sustenance, such as Experimenter's initiative Generator, a co-operative art production fund, or using online platforms for digital exhibitions, digital walkthroughs and peer-to-peer conversations, will help us all to deal with the new situations of physical distancing.
Several cogs in the wheel of the art world have functioned in silos for too long and we will have to learn to come together in the virtual world, not only in India but by making partnerships all over the world. The future lies in collaboration and working together in judicious, sensitive and nuanced ways. It is entirely possible, maybe even warranted, that new rules may be written in the art world that go beyond the boundaries that we usually frame our structures with.
TARQ | Hena Kapadia
As a young gallerist in India, I have often taken for granted the immense role that the digital has played in the functioning of TARQ. A senior gallerist once pointed out to me how new technology has aided both, sales and brand building, whether it in the form of a simple tool like the PDF, or the power of social media.
As a rule, and well before the current situation, our internal systems at TARQ have been almost entirely digitally driven. We pay immense attention to social media: almost all our advertising expenses over the last few years have been utilized towards its management, including targeted promotions. Additionally, we recently upgraded our backend to an entirely digital Artwork Management System that catalogues both our artworks and contacts. Our archive is on the cloud, and I think these three elements together have made the transition of working from home over the last two months pretty seamless.
We have also begun to take our other programming online, via Zoom and Instagram Live, and are beginning to see positive reactions to this. However, the digital does limit the extent of the programming we can do - a print-making workshop, where materials are not so easy to come by or a film screening, that would require complex permissions online, have now become virtually impossible to organise.
The next challenge for us at TARQ is figuring out how to translate a strong digital back end into a powerful client facing business. The reality is that the artworks we sell are physical objects, and their materiality is extremely important. We have sold works via digital means before, and continue to do so in our recent series of online exhibitions. Still, very often our clients have come around to the gallery personally to have a look at the work in the flesh. Even if one overcomes this, as people get more and more used to the virtual world, there is also the practical question of the ability to store, maintain and eventually ship out the works once sold.
While I think digital platforms are going to be key in maintaining relationships with artists and collectors who may be unable to travel for some time, I am unsure that the virtual will ever completely replace the physical experience of visiting galleries and viewing works of art.