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How to interact with art during the pandemic
During these strange days, much has been said and written about the importance, even the need, of art in the midst of this health, social and economic crisis. And the traditional art gallery, the sterile, windowless viewing room—labeled as the “white cube” by artist and critic Brian O’Doherty in 1976— which has dominated the art world for decades as the primary way to display works has been forced to change.
The white cube, which has been compared to an operating room, has always been advocated by galleries as a way to maintain neutrality so that works of art can be observed without interference. But its clinical neutrality has managed to create an artificial relationship between the viewer and art, becoming a symbol of elitism.
In 1965 Yoko Ono already questioned the relationship between the viewer and art and the neutrality of the galleries with Cut Piece, in which the artist sat on stage with scissors and invited members of the audience to cut her clothes. Click on the image to see the full video.
Now, the pandemic has made the gallery even more inaccessible, inspiring curators and creators to reimagine how art could be shared, and new relationships have been generated between art and viewers.
On March 27, artist Eben Haines launched Shelter in Place Gallery, a miniature showroom that allows artists to create small-scale works that appear larger when photographed and shared on Instagram. After reviewing sample image artist submissions and proposals by email, Haines and partner Delaney Dameron request selected artists to drop off or mail their work. They then install and photograph each small solo art show, which lasts less than a week.
The decades-old practice of populist art commonly known as postal art has undergone a revival in recent months. The rules are simple: all one has to do is make a small piece of art of any kind (drawing, collage, poem, etc.) that can fit in an envelope and mail it to another correspondent.
Postal art was already practiced by Dadaist artist Marcel Duchamp, but the movement gained prominence in the 1950s, when Ray Johnson set out to stand up to the gallery system, submitting templates of his own drawings with directions for correspondents to add their own mark emails before sending them back or forwarding them to someone else. The project eventually became known as the New York Correspondence School.
During the pandemic, several mail-order art projects have emerged. Art collector and curator Jason Brown has been running an open call called My view from home. The initiative invites people from all over to submit their work, which Brown collects and posts on the project website and Instagram account. After the submission period is over, Brown plans to donate the emails to the Vanderbilt University Library Special Collections in Nashville. According to Brown, he has received more than 350 works from 27 countries, including India, Cuba and Germany. ‘It expands the notion of what an artist is. Mail artists come from all walks of life; Most are not professional artists,’ says Brown. ‘All you need is your imagination and a stamp.’