It was the year when art became more distant, with the shutting of museums and art galleries, and also, ironically, when it came closest to the people — on their screens and neighbourhood walls. While artists let the audience into their studios during live sessions, many others engaged with them during DIY workshops. We look at some of the highlights of the year in art:
With a spate of lockdowns that now seem endless, and people across the world adhering to ‘stay at home’ mandates, art went digital like never before. It came as no surprise that Google’s recently released ‘Year in Search’ featured “Virtual museum tours” among the top searches of 2020. If Paris’ Musée d’Orsay shared its famed collection of Western masters, including Monet, Cezanne and Gauguin, on the British Museum website was the ancient Rosetta Stone and Egyptian mummies. Musée du Louvre shared paintings by Delacroix, Rembrandt and Tintoretto. Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum shared its collection of Vermeer and Rembrandt while MoMa’s “Virtual Views” included lectures by experts.
Closer home, Mumbai’s Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum shared over 200 highlights from its collection on Google Arts & Culture; the famed miniatures from Delhi’s National Museum collection can now be viewed on the Google Arts & Culture app inside a virtual art gallery designed with traditional Indian architecture. The National Gallery of Modern Art, meanwhile, presented virtual exhibitions to celebrate pioneers, from Ramkinkar Baij to the ongoing exhibition featuring Nandalal Bose’s works.
New digital art centres also became popular, from “In Touch” and TAP India, digital exhibition platforms established by art galleries in India during the pandemic, to Culturespaces, a French organisation that specialises in providing an immersive art experience.
Art on the Streets
Artists turned to the street to talk of the times, dedicated works to their heroes and sent out social messages. Leading from the front was anonymous British artist Banksy, who created several street artworks that highlighted the pandemic. While his version of Johannes Vermeer’s painting The Girl With The Pearl Earring now adorns a mask, Amsterdam-based street artist FAKE’s “Super nurse” went viral, so did graffiti from the New York subways. On her road trip through India, artist Shilo Shiv Suleman raised awareness on how street art could bring social change and draw attention to the communities most marginalised during the lockdown, and the expansive facade of the Mahim railway station was painted with a mural celebrating “Heroes of Mumbai” by the St+art India Foundation.
Learn and Play
While several prominent art institutions, including MoMA, launched free online courses on modern art, photography and fashion, workshops on the nuances and techniques of art also kept enthusiasts busy across the world. Several famous paintings became subjects of memes on digital platforms. The J Paul Getty Museum challenge and The Netherlands social account Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine had social media followers recreate a work of art with objects from the comfort of their own homes, with impressive — and occasionally — hilarious results.
Art reflects on the times, including the dark hours when humanity has been challenged by epidemics, like the one that plagued Europe in the Medieval era or how the world is battling Covid-19 presently. Some artists depicted the distress and helplessness brought by the pandemic, while others turned to hope. If Damien Hirst created rainbow art featuring his trademark coloured butterfly wings — that could be downloaded and put on windows — as a tribute to NHS (National Health Service) workers, David Hockney shared drawings of the spring on his iPad from his Normandy home. Ai Weiwei sold limited-edition face masks to garner funds for Covid-19 relief. Dhruvi Acharya evoked the pain and suffering of the pandemic in her watercolours, while Varunika Saraf painted the plight of lakhs of migrants during the lockdown. Sameer Kulavoor painted the self, with digital devices being the only window to the outside world.
Closures and Delays
With the pandemic severely affecting finances, several museums in the US and Europe laid off and furloughed employees. Numerous big-budget exhibitions were postponed, so were art fairs and biennales, including Art Basel Hong Kong, Venice Architecture Biennale, Gwangju Biennale, Whitney Biennial and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
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