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Curators Barbara Pollack and Anne Verhallen put together the online exhibition “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” as a reaction to gallery and museum closures across the country.
The show currently features the work of 39 artists, including Michael Joo, Marilyn Minter, Ai Weiwei, Amir H. Fallah, Kathe Burkhart, and Patricia Cronin. With plans to keep growing and bringing in new artists, emerging and established, it features work made in response to the progression of the pandemic.
To learn more about the project, Whitewall spoke to Anne Verhallen and Barbara Pollack.
WHITEWALL: Where did the idea of “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?” begin?
ANNE VERHALLEN & BARBARA POLLACK: On Friday, March 13, we woke up to the announcement that all museums and institutions would be closing their door to the public for the foreseeable future. I [Anne] called Barbara immediately following the announcement and asked her if she wanted to launch a non-profit online exhibition. To which she enthusiastically said, “Yes,” and said the title should be “How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This?”
We felt the need to create a non-profit art space to give voice to artists and creatives to suggest change and create a global dialogue. Many commercial galleries have been in a digital migration, and this migration has been accelerated. Yet, there is a lack of non-profit exhibitions in the digital space. The conversation triggered around art in a non-commercial setting is vastly different than the conversation that is held when space is sales driven. We think in times of crisis it is important to have artists and thought leaders lead the way forward!
WW: How did you decide which artists you wanted to include? How did you reach out?
AV & BP: Our initial curation was directed to artists that have addressed social and political issues throughout their careers. We aim to not only address the COVID-19 crisis, but also other crises in the world, and we believe we have long waited for change. The current disruption of our behavior can help facilitate these changes.
We now also have a new wave of younger artists responding to the COVID-19 crisis and how their governments are handling these crises. Issues around unequal health systems are brought to the forefront.
It is important to us that our curation reflects what is happening right now, there are daily issues that need to be addressed and therefore it is our responsibility as curators to have an immediate response. Our platform introduces an artist a day and gives us the ability to present a direct response.
WW: Do you think you will continue this initiative of bringing people together with art in the way that this online exhibition does when the pandemic will have passed?
AV & BP: We certainly think we will be able to continue our mission way past COVID-19. We want to be the leading site for artists at times of crisis. Not only the current pandemic, but the ongoing rise of authoritarianism throughout the world, the series of natural disasters brought on by climate change, racism and gender discrimination, and many other crises that artists have to live through and confront. Also, we believe that our exhibition will have longevity because the shift to a digital presentation that is occurring in the art world during this lockdown is here to stay.
The importance of a global dialogue continues to become more and more relevant. What will be the new universal? How do we decrease the growing polarization within countries? These are questions we ask ourselves.
We aim to build a sustainable online institution that can continue to build a global community, keep people connected, and can facilitate a dialogue around art and creativity. We are currently looking for partners and sponsorship. We are very careful with who we would like to align our initiative with, as we don’t want to replicate the issue of problematic sources of income found in so many museums.
WW: You have a unique feature to your exhibition which is that you invite visitors to engage with each other and start a conversation on the website. What is the idea behind the Commons page? What were you hoping for when creating it?
AV & BP: “Art at a Time Like This” is a curated show and we believe it is important to stay a curated show. However, we think it is also important to give other artists, creatives, and individuals the opportunity to contribute and join our conversation.
“Art at a Time Like This” website was built in 24hr by me [Anne] with the help of two interns, we are exploring ways in which the conversation can be more dynamic. At the moment our live page is what is most important to us in order to facilitate dialogue. We host live events once a week, where we invite participating artists, industry leaders, and curators to have a conversation with us. Each week we have an audience of 100 people participating in the conversation, to trigger engagement. These conversations are also live streaming on our site for anyone who is attending the event via Zoom.
WW: What has been the public response so far?
AV & BP: We have been overwhelmed with positive responses, thank you-letters that say things like we are saving lives or providing comfort during this difficult time. We have over 70,000-page viewers reaching 99 countries at this time and we hear from people all over the world that this platform and our exhibition is helping them. Also, we are super excited that our exhibition has garnered reviews in the New York Times, the New Yorker, and many other publications, just as if we were a show in a physical space. Though we are not on the frontlines as first responders are, we feel that art has tremendous value, especially during a time of social isolation. It goes back to the question, how can we think of art at a time like this? Art is not trivial even during a pandemic and providing creative outlets is essential.