Art in the time of COVID19
April 22, 2020 - All
A blog post on the social media challenge “Between Art and Quarantine” during the COVID19 pandemic.
As museums shut their doors, lay off their employees, and prepare for substantial losses of revenue during the COVID19 pandemic, art enthusiasts are moving to online platforms to engage with media, museum collections, and each other. Lists have been compiled of virtual tours, online exhibitions have been created to showcase digital works of art, and curatorial departments are already thinking ahead to exhibitions focussing on the coronavirus pandemic.
Digital trends in the cultural heritage sector are being put to the test in this period. During a time when entire countries, cities, and towns are being forced or strongly encouraged to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID19, the adjustment towards experiencing art, history, and social experiences from one’s own home are proving to be as unexpected as they are difficult.
Arguments about the value of in person experiences in cultural institutions and online or virtually mediated digital experiences continue to challenge museum professionals to understand the role of museums in new ways and under changing circumstances. Before the pandemic, these questions were forcing cultural institutions to rethink what they had to offer visitors and the public and how best to create enriching experiences. Employing digital strategies and tools became a way to keep up with competitors such as movie streaming sites, smart phone app games, and at home virtual reality consoles. During this pandemic and period of social isolation, it is not about a future or ongoing pivot towards digital tools but an immediate necessity to employ these tools.
One response to this new reality of closed cultural institutions and social isolation practices requiring people to stay in their homes has been a challenge from the Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum, and the Rijksmuseum to their followers to recreate favorite works of art using items found in their followers’ homes. The challenge, which stems from the Rijksmuseum and the instagram account “Between Art and Quarantine” (originally in Dutch as @tussenkunstenquarantaine), invites people to search the museum’s collection for their favorite work of art, and recreate the image using household items and clothing (and sometimes pets). A similar campaign from the Metropolitan Museum of Art was launched a few months ago, before the pandemic had resulted in calls for social isolation in the United States, with the hashtag #MetTwinning.
While virtual tours, and online collections are sources of new inspiration and a way to maintain access to important collections and thoughtful curation during a time of immense stress and uncertainty, the social media challenge engages directly with the shared context that many (hopefully all) people are experiencing — being isolated in your house for the past few weeks and for the foreseeable future.
The allure of the #BetweenArtAndQuarantine challenge is that it is able to capture a collective moment across social media platforms. During a time where many people are relying on social media to communicate and engage in social spaces, this challenge directly invites participants to play, engage, and think about art in ways relevant to their current circumstances. Whereas some museums and art centers have curated online art exhibitions of digital art, such as the New Museum, Chronus Art Center, and Rhizome, which co-curated an online collection of digital born works of art titled We=Link, other museums have made virtual tours and walkthroughs available through their websites, with Hyperallergic and various blogs compiling lists of such tours. While these tours and virtual exhibitions are a way to maintain normalcy for museum visitors and the institutions themselves, I would argue that these approaches required artistic and museum literacy on the part of the viewer in terms of how to find, engage, and meaningfully experience these tours and works of art. So while these exhibitions may be interesting and necessary for many art lovers and for artists, they seem particularly inaccessible during this time.
As someone who frequents and works in museums myself, I did not think to seek out a virtual experience in a museum during this time. I would argue that during this moment few people are seeking out individual experiences for reflection or inspiration. We are all, by a shared circumstance, being forced to grapple with the existential and practical reality of being isolated from each other during a terrifying moment in history. A virtual tour of a museum before this pandemic could offer accessible, innovative, inspiring, and self reflective experiences to people unable to visit museums. Now that our shared context is one of profound emotional, social, and economic despair, the impulse to seek out and the effectiveness of virtual tours through museum collections is changing.
As other platforms and social media challenges are moving through the digital world, such as a Google Chrome extension called “Netflix Party” allowing users to watch the same program with friends; Animal Crossing, a video game allowing avatars to interact with other users on virtual islands; and chain activities on Instagram where users tag their friends to continue the challenge, the Between Art and Quarantine (and similar hashtag challenges) encourage people to connect to one another through social media and a shared vocabulary of art and history. The moment we are in necessitates an immediate and thoughtful use of social media platforms to organize, grieve, and enjoy each other’s company in as many ways possible. Using works of art to bring people together and inspire creativity has never been more important.
Abend, Lisa. “Museums Scramble to Document the Pandemic, Even as It Unfolds.” New York Times. 2020 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/31/arts/design/museums-coronavirus-pandemic-artifacts.html
Bishara, Hakim. “The Internet Is Restaging Famous Paintings While Museums Are Closed.” Hyperallergic. 2020 https://hyperallergic.com/549987/the-internet-is-restaging-famous-paintings-while-museums-are-closed/?utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=sf&utm_medium=social
Bishara, Hakim. “2,500 Museums You Can Now Visit Virtually.” Hyperallergic. 2020 https://hyperallergic.com/547919/2500-virtual-museum-tours-google-arts-culture/?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=sf&utm_source=twitter
New Museum. We Link https://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/we-equals-link-ten-easy-pieces
Art in the time of COVID19 was originally published in Museums and Digital Culture – Pratt Institute on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.