Jerry Saltz takes a sobering, thought-provoking look at where the art world may find itself in the wake of COVID-19. Anyone involved or adjacent to this world knows how much it has been struggling in the last few decades. Will the current global pandemic spell an end to the many small, scrappy art institutions and business models that have already been hanging on by a thread? And if so, what new models might emerge in the aftermath?
I believe the pandemic could spell the end of art fairs except Art Basel, which owns its own convention hall in Switzerland, and maybe Frieze — the Brits love big, glitzy, theatrical tent-city productions. (I do not think many galleries will mourn this loss.) Unfortunately, auctions may be the cockroach in the art-world coal mine. They don't require much of a physical footprint; much of what they do is done digitally and online. I wonder, however, if the regular dick-waving rituals of establishing hierarchy and financial clout will be performed if they aren't performed in public.
What about writers? Art magazines and blogs depend on advertisers, but what will those advertisers advertise? Are art galleries still paying previous ad contracts to art magazines to advertise shows that aren't happening? A generation ago, newspapers and magazines supported hundreds or even thousands of professional art critics. The recent decline of the business means that that number has been cut by a factor of ten at least, and a prolonged period of economic suffering will probably accelerate that trend as well. Will publications be able to pay their writers, staff, benefits, and their own overheads? Blogs and smaller arts organizations and littler galleries share some of the DNA of auctions and have smaller footprints, fewer employees, and lower overheads. But their incomes are smaller too. Right now, blogs and galleries are posting a steady stream of listicles, art that can be seen online, trying to organize online viewing rooms, and other things to do in seclusion. These things keep spirits necessarily high, but they bring in almost no money.
Art isn't about professionalism, efficiency, insurance, and safety; it's about eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation.
Whatever happens, we're all conscripted into the service of art; we're all volunteers of America. We need to play it loose, loving, generous, being as creative and as unafraid as possible, adapting to change as it comes and not falling back on old, outmoded, mean, or inapplicable dogmas. We all want to go the distance for what we love. That distance has begun. Things are bleak, but batons will be and are already being passed to generations who will emerge on the other side of this who will have the brilliant chance to build a whole new art world. How long the interregnum lasts, I do not know. But on the other side, the survivors will always have the knowledges of what they learned about themselves as the angel of death walked among us.
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H/t Angela Adams