Visual Arts News Digest, Compiled by the Vancouver Art Gallery Library, April 14, 2020


Vancouver art projects capture COVID-19 social distancing through photos and video.  Photo and video art is emerging from the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, with two major local projects—including Adad Hannah’s—growing out of the theme of social distancing.  One of them, called Power of Portrait, is a new crowd-sourced public-art initiative to collect close-up portraits during quarantine and post them along the depressing spread of boarded-up storefronts on Robson Street and elsewhere. The other, led by the Burnaby-based Hannah, appears on his websiteVimeo, and Instagram, and as part of a curated virtual exhibit by the Capture Photography Festival. Georgia Straight, April 14, 2020


Erin Gee.  Erin Gee’s “To The Sooe” reflects on the valences of emotional life in a post-internet world, gesturing to the many resonances between humans and machines in a time when the humanity of algorithms, data and screens might seem at odds with the complexities of feeling. Having visited the exhibition just weeks before the gallery’s temporary closure due to COVID-19 physical distancing measures, I am now struck by how prescient the work is in this moment of quarantine and self-isolation, when, for most of us, our primary means of communication, intimacy, and connection with others is through technology. Canadian Art, April 7, 2020


WAG celebrates artist who immortalized the province.   Into the Light, an exhibition of Lionel LeMoine FitzGerald’s paintings that was scheduled to open April 4 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, has been postponed, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the WAG is offering a video preview of the exhibit online. Into the Light: LL FitzGerald features the paintings of the artist and educator, who was born in Winnipeg in 1890. He was a member of the Group of Seven, a group of Canadian painters known for capturing the landscape of the country in the 1920s and 1930s.  Winnipeg Free Press, April 7, 2020


Famed artist Burtynsky turns his talents to making 3D masks for COVID-19 fight. Posting a pic of what appeared to be an avant-garde mask, Edward Burtynsky informed that he was “pleased to share that my team at @think2thing has devised a practical and inexpensive solution…In response to the urgent needs of healthcare workers, we took a basic, open-source concept for a #3Dprinted face shield from (3D printer) Prusa and developed a snap-together design that could be printed economically… Touching base with the Toronto legend — who was actually supposed to be in Africa right now, on a shoot for a major project due to be released next year, and whose entire schedule has naturally been upended, including the cancellation of a major show in Europe — he explained that the files come from Think2Thing, the premier 3D atelier in Canada, which he co-founded with David Didur.  Toronto Star, April 10, 2020

Inuit artist Quvianaqtuk Pudlat prints Baffin Island-inspired work at Toronto studio.   In a Toronto studio more than 2,000 kilometres from his home, Cape Dorset artist Quvianaqtuk Pudlat smiles with pleasure as a printer lifts the arm of a large press to reveal an image of two Arctic foxes on the paper beneath. One is grey, the other is red, and the confrontation of their twisting bodies creates a bold circle of action.  “They are playing, not fighting,” Pudlat explains. “No teeth.”  Globe & Mail, April 7, 2020

Royal Ontario Museum will lay off half its full-time staff, reducing hours.  Faced with no ticket revenue because of the coronavirus crisis, the Royal Ontario Museum will lay off half its full-time staff at the end of the week and is putting the other half on reduced hours…ROM director Josh Basseches said the museum is just completing negotiations with its unions to manage the layoffs and cuts.  “Our intention is to ensure the burden of these short-term measures is shared across the museum,” he said. “With this in mind, staff whose work is critical to near-term, high-priority projects will continue to work through this period but on a reduced work schedule and with a reduction in pay.  Globe & Mail, April 7, 2020


Montrealers Are Recreating Artworks From The MMFA & The Results Are Too Good (Photos)  The artworks at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts have never seemed so lifelike. The MMFA is challenging Montrealers to recreate its collection in their own homes using household items, and the results are too good. Photos shared to the museum’s Instagram account show its employees getting extra creative — and a little sassy — with the project. Montreal Life, April 13, 2020


News Roundup: Layoffs Continue at Canadian Museums, Galleries and Arts Organizations.  Artists and advocates call for better access to Canada’s emergency relief programs. On April 4, Canadian Artists Representation published a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling on “the Federal Government to review and remove barriers to artists who require access to key Emergency Relief programs…” Some cities launched their own artist-relief funds—and quickly found them overwhelmed. Canadian Art, April 9, 2020


Frye Art Museum Workers Say Layoffs Motivated by Union Busting Workers at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle held a “socially distant picket” outside the institution on Friday, April 10, to protest the termination of one-third of the museum’s workforce due to losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The protesters claim that two union representatives have been specifically targeted while negotiations for a contract are still underway.  Earlier on Friday, 21 workers received notice from the museum that all non-exempt part-time and on-call employees have been laid off.  Hyperallergic, April 13, 2020


Portland Art Museum joins wave of institutions to cut back on staff costs.  Nearly 75% of staff will be placed on unpaid leave and senior leadership at the Oregon museum will take salary cuts. The Art Newspaper, April 13, 2020

Los Angeles

Artists Are Teaching Free Online Classes to Kids in Both English and Spanish.  The 18th Street Arts Center is about to launch a mini-semester’s worth of virtual art school for children, from toddlers to teenagers. The Arts Learning Lab @ Home series will launch Wednesday, April 15 on Zoom and continue through the end of the school year in June. Hyperallergic, April 13, 2020

Why LA is America’s free museum capital.  The coronavirus has changed US museums’ priorities faster than you can buy hand sanitiser—instead of trying to pack their galleries, institutions are cancelling crowded events or closing their doors altogether to limit virus transmission.  But the question of whether attendance is the best measure of success for museums was alive and well long before the virus figured in, and the debate has played out dramatically in Los Angeles over the past five years. While the Broad opened in 2015 with an explicit mandate from the philanthropist- collectors Eli and Edythe Broad to become a major civic destination drawing serious crowds, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Klaus Biesenbach, has tried to change the terms of that conversation, insisting that beefing up lacklustre attendance figures is not his goal.  The Art Newspaper, April 13, 2020


A Dream Deferred, for Now. The coronavirus has pushed Deborah Roberts’s art exhibition at the Contemporary Austin at least to January. She is looking at the postponement as a gift… “It just gives me time to be greater,” Ms. Roberts said, “to really flesh out this work.”   In this way, Ms. Roberts exemplifies where many emerging artists find themselves during the coronavirus quarantine, which is where they always are — in their studios, making work that may never sell; deploying well-honed habits of toiling in isolation; and drawing strength from the creative process that has long sustained them.  New York Times, April 12, 2020

New York

After 150 Years, Looking Back at the Metropolitan Museum’s 10 Most Visited Exhibitions.  Today, April 13, marks the 150th anniversary of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It was to be a festive occasion, launching a year of celebrations with special programming that was months in the making, but then the pandemic hit and rendered all plans null and void… Forced to close in the face of global crisis, the Met told its department heads last month that it expects to remain closed until July and that it projects nearly $100 million in losses.  In a statement today, the museum said, “Our hearts are heavy for New York and the entire world during this challenging time and in lieu of our planned celebrations, the Museum is using this moment to reflect on our community’s resilience and how art can offer comfort and inspiration, even in the most difficult of circumstances.” Hyperallergic, April 13, 2020


The Invention of the Humane: Ken Lum’s Collected Writings.  I was planning to attend the Art Metropole launch of Everything is Relevant: Writings on Art and Life, Ken Lum’s book of his selected writings. At the launch he was to be interviewed by the art historian Mark Cheetham, a scholar of artists’ writings. It wasn’t to be: the launch was swept away, like so much else, as the pandemic spread… Everything is Relevant gathers a wide variety of writing. Its heterogeneity seems to emerge from an intense restlessness, an incessant searching for a way to speak. Some essays are close readings illuminating the work of a particular artist; some are art-historical forays, reprising aesthetic education in China’s brief-lived Republican period, or examining Canada’s paradoxical history, at once colony and colonizer. Others are less formal and take the form of a letter or a diary. Some restrict themselves to the logic of an argument, while others wander across multiple terrains. Some are strikingly personal.  Momus, April 6, 2020

United States

Let Us Now Praise Humble Artists.  With increasing fanfare since the 1980s, collectors, critics, mega-galleries, and museums have routinely celebrated materialist excess, oversized artworks meant for the vast spaces of corporate lobbies, Neo-Georgian estates, and McMansions, flawlessly executed by studio assistants and fabricators, none of whom ever get credit — the latest line of brand-name products, savvy examples of entrepreneurship claiming to be critical of capitalism… Perhaps it is time we stopped looking at what passes for the new and begin looking at drawings — and what might be found there. Perhaps that is where we might find the news, instead of the latest selfie destination, whose impeccably shiny surface tries to tell us that all is well with the world.  Hyperallergic, April 11, 2020

Survey of US Arts Organizations Points to Devastating Losses During Pandemic.  $4.5 billion: that’s the estimated financial toll of the coronavirus outbreak on the US cultural sector to date, calculated based on data from an ongoing survey by Americans for the Arts. To put the figure in perspective, it is 22.5 times the combined $200 million allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the stimulus bill passed by Congress two weeks ago. Hyperallergic, April 14, 2020

COVID-19 Pandemic Sheds New Light on Access to the Arts  We’ve seen an increase in online programming as museums close to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. One arts administrator ponders how we can maintain this accessibility, and how it is colored by race and class.  Hyperallergic, April 13, 2020


Smart lifts, lonely workers, no towers or tourists: architecture after coronavirus.  Is the open-plan office dead? Can skyscrapers survive? Will our phones control everything from the lights to ordering coffee? Our writer meets the architects already shaping the post-Covid-19 world .. With each of us now living in socially distanced self-isolation, with shops shuttered, offices abandoned and urban centres reduced to ghost towns, it’s hard not to wonder what kind of lasting impact Covid-19 will have on our cities. Will homes need to adapt to better accommodate work? Will pavements widen so we can keep our distance? Will we no longer want to live so densely packed together, working in open-plan offices and cramming into lifts? Will the beloved British pastime of queuing ever be the same again?  The Guardian, April 13, 2020


Stockholm’s Subway Network Is the World’s Longest Art Walk.  Stockholm’s metro—or tunnelbana as the Swedish call it—bills itself as “the world’s longest art exhibition,” and that’s no exaggeration. Since construction began in 1950, some 250 artists have decorated 94 stations across 68 miles of track. (By contrast, the Louvre’s exhibits run 9 miles long.) Many of the stops look like caves a troll might inhabit, their blasted bedrock walls sprayed with a thin layer of concrete, then adorned with intricate murals, reliefs, and even LED sculptures. Wired, April 12, 2020


‘Now there is nobody’: living in a tourist attraction under lockdown.  On a typical day, upwards of 3,000 tourists would stream through her home. But as Spain’s near-total lockdown stretches beyond Easter, Ana Viladomiu has found herself weeks into living a near-solitary life in one of Barcelona’s top tourist attractions…She has taken comfort in the building’s cast iron pillars, bright airy courtyards and sculptural nods to nature. “I’m really privileged to be surrounded by art and beauty,” she said. “In these tough moments, they help lift the spirit.”  The Guardian, April 13, 2020


Digital boom sustains museum audiences but not income.  Museums around Europe have reported up to 80% loss of income as a result of closing their doors to the public, though many have experienced an increase in online visits.   Fewer than one in ten museums have remained open and losses are mounting, with the larger institutions and those in popular tourist destinations worst hit of all. These bigger museums, such as Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, are losing between €100k and €600k a week.  Arts Professional, April 13, 2020


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