Covid-19 can be seen as a major element that is changing the world and the priorities of human beings and can also be seen as a phenomenon that accelerates processes. Our interest here is the art world - a multi-participant ecosystem - that is challenged with a need for radical changes to maintain relevance. Here are some interesting examples of artistic endeavours and the acceleration of technological processes driven by the pandemic.
Banksy does the tube
What does a street artist do who cannot take to the streets? Banksy, the world-famous anonymous street artist, painted rats, his favorite animal, in his (very unimpressive) bathroom.
The next thing he did, was to deliver via a courier, a framed drawing to one of the hospitals focusing on Covid patients in the south of England. The drawing depicts a nurse as the new super-hero.
In the accompanying note he wrote words of thanks to the medical staff and said he hoped his painting would bring some light into the hospital, even though it was black and white. The hospital decided to hang the painting in the foyer until the fall, when it will be auctioned and the money will be used for the benefit of the hospital. Two weeks later someone tried to steal the painting from the wall, but was luckily caught by the security personnel who caught it on security cameras.
This week he actually left the house and in the guise of a cleaning worker for the London TFL transport company he drew rats and even wrote his name in one of the carriages of the Circle Line. The message this time was in reference to the importance of wearing a mask (in London, masks are only mandatory on public transport and shops).
By the time the video Banksy posted on his Instagram account came up, his images were gone. There is zero tolerance for graffiti on the tube and it is likely that the diligent cleaner who turned Banksy’s work into a stain on his rag – did not even know that this was a cultural event that the whole world would be interested in.
The transportation company came out calling on Banksy to paint more work, this time according to the rules. But since Banksy is the last to follow the rules, it will remain as most of Banksy’s works – as documentation.
With the start of the lockdown, American artist Liza Lou set up a new platform called Apartogether, suggesting people create blankets from materials they have at home and upload them to Instagram. The inspiration for the project came when she found her childhood blanket, her object of comfort, that made her think that a blanket project could bring comfort to many people.
Liza Lou is known for the large-scale works she creates from craft materials – mostly beads. Her best-known work, Kitchen, recreates her mother’s kitchen. Work on the project took five years. There is no doubt that there is a meditative quality in craftwork (a guy I know started learning to knit!). Lou’s project has become global with an active website, a dedicated hashtag on Instagram and lots of collaborations.
The challenge of art institutes
Shadowed by the threat of recurring closures, art institutions around the world are also facing huge losses and uncertainty about their ability to continue operating. This week it was announced that the two Frieze fairs, which will take place in London in October, will be canceled this year and although preparations for Art Basel Miami Beach are ongoing, I find it hard to imagine it will actually take place. Galleries are starting to reopen all over the world and museums are warming up engines but it is clear to everyone that the restrictions on the number of visitors will create a huge economic burden on museums. Alco-gel, social distance and advanced booking are an integral part of our new reality, even in galleries and museums, but it cannot last for long.
Here in Israel, the Israel Museum is closed and in the Tel Aviv Museum the directors and curators also serve as guards in exhibitions because the guards have been laid-off. The Negev Museum of art in Be’er Sheva responded with record speed to the new situation and issued a call to the artists of the Negev, in which they are invited to submit works made during the time of Covid-19. The result is the exhibition What’s happening at Home, curated by the museum’s director, Dr. Dalia Manor (with the help of Nirit Dahan). For the first time in its history, an exhibition is being held in which all participants are artists from the Negev.
As art institutes continue their struggle with the virus, one can at least flaunt an artistic mask that has become a hit in museum stores. Hopefully they will soon become collectibles that will be locked in some box in the attic.