Last week, when the Boston Center for the Arts announced it would close to the public due to the coronavirus, director of visual arts Randi Hopkins started brainstorming. The exhibition in the BCA’s Mills Gallery, “FeministFuturist,” scheduled to close April 5, would now be kaput.
“We realized we’d be closing the gallery midway through the show,” Hopkins said. “Everyone loved the show so much, it has so many access points. So we said: How can we be creative about keeping the exhibition alive and creative and vital for the community and the artists?”
Hopkins and her team set to work transferring a gallery show to a digital format. The artists in the exhibition, which considers present-day struggles through a feminist, utopian lens, wanted to see their works online. That’s something many commercial galleries, eager to sell paintings and works on paper online, do anyway.
But Hopkins wanted more, such as a reading list and access to videos, a medium which is often not made public digitally. Two of the show’s videos (by Magda Fernandez and Linda Price-Sneddon) are up in full. Another, Genevieve Quick’s “Planet Celadon: Our Receiver Is Operating,” a hysterical, Busby Berkeley take on Asian-American hybridity and immigration, is unfortunately just a trailer. The digital exhibition can be viewed at www.bostonarts.org.
Other gallerists are seeing a need and stepping up.
“Now that we’re not sharing the art in person, what can we do?” asked A. David Guerra, owner and founder of A R E A, a commercial gallery that programs exhibitions at The Yard, a co-working office, as well as in its own SOWA space.
“Creators will be highly affected by all the closings, and online was my first response,” Guerra said. “We have never sold a piece online. But now we’ll showcase work we have that people can’t see in person.”
Last Friday, Guerra launched www.constructionarea.gallery to showcase the Yard’s exhibition, “In Manual Mode,” featuring work by artists influenced by photography. Next up, Cal Rice’s exhibition of paintings (ironically titled before the shutdown, “Cancel Your Plans”) at A R E A. Guerra will install it in the gallery, and he and Rice will host a Facebook Live opening at 4 p.m. on April 3. Find it at www.facebook.com/areaartgallery.
Social media is a savvy artist’s playground. With last week’s closing of the Piano Craft Gallery, a volunteer-run nonprofit in the Piano Craft Guild (where artists live/work in the South End), exhibition coordinator Erik Grau sent the word out via e-mail and social media that the venue would launch Social Distancing Gallery on its social media feeds.
By Monday, Grau had 35 submissions posted on Instagram, and an inbox full of new ones, sent by local artists and from abroad. Have a look at www.instagram.com/artpcgboston.
“If you’re sending it, we’re sharing,” Grau said. “It’s more about giving opportunities to everyone than handpicking.”
Even though Social Distancing Gallery’s feed is not curated, much of the work is worth browsing. The art that suffers most in this context is three-dimensional — installation art and sculptures that benefit from physical interaction.
At A R E A, which focuses on New England artists, Guerra said that he, too, may start posting images online from artists looking for exposure. “I don’t have exclusivity with artists, so anyone who does not have representation, who needs support, who needs a network,” might submit, he said. “This is a work in progress for artists and art lovers to build their connections.”
And there’s a marketing angle. “We’ll say hey, these are coming fresh out of the studios right now,” Guerra said. “We want to energize the contemporary art scene in this city, so we don’t go dormant.”
Armchair art lovers can also go to Art Basel Hong Kong. The art fair, which was scheduled to run through March 21, has been canceled due to the coronavirus, but now you can log in and stroll through viewing rooms at www.artbasel.com/hong-kong.
Museums also have great art to see online. The Museum of Fine Arts (www.mfa.org) and the Institute of Contemporary Art (www.icaboston.org) offer ready access to their collections, as well as videos of gallery tours, lectures, and artist interviews. And they’re ramping up their social media presence. The MFA and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are posting with the #MuseumFromHome hashtag, and on Twitter, Victoria Reed, (twitter.com/Victoria_S_Reed) the MFA’s curator for provenance, is offering up fun facts.
Earlier this week, Hopkins was still puzzling about how to mount a digital version of Freedom Baird’s installation, “Instructions Vault” on the “FeministFuturist” site. Baird had created an orange room vaulted with plastic slats. She invited visitors to write a message to the future and attach it to the slats.
“Be kind,” read one before the closure. “Be good to the animals and trees and flowers — live minimally,” read another. A third: “The earth is not a cold, dead place.”
It’s easy enough to take a picture of a painting or post a photograph or even a video online. Transferring a conceptual installation is another level of difficulty, but by midweek, Hopkins had solved the problem. Now viewers can push a button, and add their own notes.
After all, these days we may have new messages for the future: Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. And keep a safe distance.