The social function of art galleries
As physical spaces begin to re-open, virtual platforms need to add something to the art experience.
With physical spaces shuttered during lockdown, many commercial art galleries have turned to online viewing rooms. Are these also gimmicks?
They promise to make the gallery-going experience mobile, dynamic and convenient: you can access it from anywhere in the world, at any time, without the irritation of opening night crowds. What they actually do is reduce the art-buying experience to its bare fundamentals, which, in more cases than not, boasts all the passion of clicking the Add to Cart button on Amazon.
Putting a high-resolution JPEG of a painting on a white digital background (maybe with an illusionistic slice of floor at the bottom) doesn’t make for a rich experience. It flattens not just the art but the transaction, the social function of art galleries and the educational aspect of collecting.
Non-commercial online exhibitions like Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen’s ‘How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?’ are also emerging. The project describes itself as a platform, but the experience is more like clicking through an overstuffed museum website: the information is all there, but it’s not organized. True curation is hard to translate when the word has been cheapened to the level of reshuffling Instagram accounts.
David Zwirner gallery put on a more intricate production for the painter Josh Smith. In the digital exhibition ‘High as Fuck’ Smith tours viewers through paintings (brushy canvases depicting stolid tenements and empty streets) installed on the roof of his building in Brooklyn.
There are glamour shots of Smith carrying paintings up the warehouse stairs, an artist at home. He explains the body of work himself in a deadpan video reminiscent of a Wes Anderson short. There’s been a trend in recent years to present trailers for books – short video clips that tease some of a novel’s story or characters, especially if the author happens to be quite famous already.
For a show of paintings by Giovanni Copelli and Ulala Imai, the London gallery Union Pacific created a digital rendering of its entire space and a meandering video-walkthrough of the virtual exhibition, like a Second Life tour.
It mimics the normal pause-and-wander routine of an opening and even includes a brief dip of the camera into a CGI garbage can full of ice and Peroni bottles – a familiar relic of IRL openings now turned ghostly. It has an unpretentious, un-self-serious sense of humour.