How #ArtWorld2021 stumbled upon the power of going virtual

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Moyra Davey, Glass, SP NY Frieze

In the wake of the global Pandemic the artworld discovered the power of the six-degrees-of-separation science that kept it afloat through troubled times. Georgina Maddox reports. 

When the COVID 19 Pandemic hit the globe, in December 2019, we perhaps did not envision how it would impact our entire existence. Life came to a grinding halt for many economic sectors such as restaurants, holiday resorts, shopping malls, daily provision stores, sports stadiums and movie theatres. They were all shut down to avoid the spread of the COVID 19 Vaccine. Naturally the lockdown effected the art galleries, art fairs and the overall physical viewing of art as well. Exhibitions had to be cancelled or postponed, art fairs were suspended till further notice, and artists found it difficult to even go to their own private studios because of the lockdown that forbade people to ply their vehicles on the road.

Kamdhenu by Gogi Saroj Pal

For many artists who were accustomed to working in a small format and in an intimate handmade manner, this lockdown was actually ‘a boon’, since they converted their homes into their studios and dug deep into the solitude to work through the Pandemic almost around clock. However, for those who worked collaboratively and on a larger scale (installations and sculptures especially) this was a major set-back. For those who lost parents, partners and friends in the horrible second wave, it was not just an economic but also an emotional devastation.

Victim of Society by Rabin Mondal

In this drastic scenario it was a surprise how turning to a virtual, digital existence became the only reality and alternative that was available to people in general and the art community specifically. Online Shows, Webinars and Auctions helped the art community get through this very difficult time.  “In many ways, even ‘outside’ of the pandemic, as an art community, we have been adapting to a technologically resultant ‘contactless’ world. Yet, in essence, what we’re culturally trying to build are networks that respond to the situation as ideology that is a vital necessity to stay in touch,” wrote Peter Nagy the co-founded and co-director of Nature Morte.

Khanjan Dalal Gallery Display shot Discourses 

Groups like In Touch, TAP, Art Thursdays and Summer Auctions and Sales were formed by leading galleries and auction houses globally and locally in the metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. Being online became a prerequisite for ‘belonging’ to a community and even to themselves. Online Viewing Rooms and Portals like Art Basel, Frieze Art Fair, and even Dubai Art Fair, all adapted to the virtual format, presenting a strong contingent of Asian artists represented by Indian Galleries.

No Stone Unturned 2 by Gigi Scaria at Vadehra Art Gallery

“For Art Basel, Vadehra Art Gallery presented a body of work by London-based artist Faiza Bhatt centered around the idea of ‘touch’, one of our most intuitive expressions which was already under threat in this technologically driven world, and suddenly became a taboo with Covid-19. Faiza’s works research the fragility of the human condition, our search for love, warmth and embrace in our relationships and our surroundings, in these precarious times,” said Roshini Vadehra in an interview with this writer, during Art Basel in June 2021.

By Faiza Bhatt

Chemould Prescott Road presented a solo show by artist Desmond Lazaro, titled The Cosmos Project. It looked at the artist’s ongoing journey of an OVR (Online Virtual) existence. “Far away in the southern hemisphere, in Melbourne, Australia, Lazaro worked away in isolation (as artists almost always do), delving deep into his own journey that took him into the far-reaching skies of ‘The Cosmos Project’,” writes Shireen Gandhy director of Chemould Prescott Road and inheritor of one of the oldest gallery establishments. “Entering Desmond’s virtual studio was a study not only richly layered, where you learnt about astronomers, stars, planetary movements and the galaxy, but also an immersive dive into his use of colour – always pigment based, handmade, and hand-ground by the artist,” she added.

By Desmon Lezaro

Besides the established galleries like Nature Morte, Vadehra, Experimenter and that run by the Modis Espcace and the Gandhys (Chemould), the younger generation also came up with their innovations. Young artists come together to promote each-other on Instagram. The group #youngartsupport (YAS) did not just trend they also reporting a healthy sale. These days when one goes to Instagram one can be sure to be treated to a variety of good artwork in different mediums and a variety of styles, however the age group behind it is definitely defined by the millennium gang! Experienced art lovers and those working as gallerists and curators in the field for the last two decades are just happy that despite all the difficulties and desolation the young artist group has managed to ‘heroically keep themselves afloat’.

In the brief period when things recovered, both in-between the first and second wave and after the vaccine was launched, where most people were double vaccinated, we witnessed a return to the physical. Shows and international art fairs like Artissima in Italy, Art Basil in New York, Frieze London, Abu Dabi, among others worked hard to re-establish their physical presence. Of these the India attendance at Artissima in Italy had the biggest impact.

Artissima21 Hub India

The segment titled Hub India thrilled audiences with a prolific exploration of the many registers that frame Contemporary art from the Indian Sub-Continent. Returning from the packed Art Week at Turin, the India Art Hub curator Myna Mukherjee who co-curated with David Quadrio reported that the response to the artworks from India art was more than noteworthy. “It was an experience that was intense and overwhelming, although the influx of the public could not be as mammoth as it usually is, given the COVID regulations, it was still very gratifying to see critics, collectors and the general public’s excitement about the diversity of works and the sense of discovery they experienced especially with those artists whose works haven’t been seen in the West earlier,” they wrote presenting their joint statement.

Artissima21 Hub India

“Hub India is a concerted effort to present modern and contemporary Indian art on an expansive scale for the first time in Italy, conceptualized as a panorama of disparate vignettes that will reveal the complexity and richness of artistic practice in India, drawn simultaneously to the past and to the possibilities of the future,” wrote Roobina Karode, Director and Chief Curator, of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, that presented the fabulously mammoth installation by artist Jayashri Chakravarty

Of the 65 artists that were represented one got a sense of a strong presence of women artists, with names like Bharti Kher, Sheba Chachachi, Benitha Perciyal, Paula Sengupta, Sudipta Das, Ayesha Singh besides other names like Ravindra Reddy, Khadim Ali, Waswo X Waswo, Wardha Shabbir and Waseem Ahmed to name just a few.

Artissima21 Hub India

“It feels even more special as we are exhibiting in Hub India, along with our contemporaries, which specifically focuses on the Indian contemporary art scene. It’s the first time a city-wide spectacle has taken place with India in focus,” added Bhavna Kakar director of Latitude 28 that was also represented at Artissma.

One also saw a subsequent return to physical exhibitions in spaces like Bikaner House, and all the galleries across the metros hosted shows that were indicative of the effort to get back to viewing works that were sculptural and installation in nature. We can hopefully look forward to a hybrid existence of both the virtual and the physical worlds playing equally important roles in the existence and proliferation of Modern and Contemporary art, ‘Glocally’—Globally and Locally, since both aspects are important for a thriving art economy to regenerate itself.