In this conversation with Art + Australia, Nicholas Thompson (director Nicholas Thompson Gallery) and gallery artist Suzanne Archer speculate on how the pandemic will effect the models of exhibiting art and how art might reflect this subjective and collective experience moving forward.
Under government restrictions over the last two years I was still able to go into the gallery by myself for freight etc, so I would continue to install exhibitions, take photographs and promote them online. I always book in my exhibitions in advance so it wasn’t as disruptive as it could have been, and the artists were all happy to proceed as scheduled whether people could visit or not—because we had no idea when we would be able to return to normal.
Galleries have always been ambiguous in their function—yes, they are primarily businesses selling objects, but they also promote artists' long term careers and engage a general viewing public outside of an immediate expectation of sales. They contribute to broader conversations about art locally, nationally and globally, in print, online and in relation to public institutions. I think this pandemic in the digital era has raised questions about what is a contemporary exhibition—it has artworks by artists, it has a date and title, it can be written about and advertised, but is it still an exhibition if people can only see it online? Before the pandemic more and more galleries were abandoning the traditional conventions of printed catalogues, exhibition openings and traditional business hours. It is really interesting to think about how galleries and businesses will evolve from here.
During this time I think artists have suffered the most, as audiences have been unable to view their exhibitions in person. I have held several exhibitions where the work was installed and documented but nobody could get in to see them. It is a lot of work preparing an exhibition, and for no one to experience it can be devastating. Positively though, the digital era has allowed artists to build networks and support systems while working in isolation. These networks will have long lasting implications for how artists live and work into the future.
Once restrictions lifted I was able to stage a group exhibition with work by the artists whose solo exhibitions could not be seen, so every artist exhibited during the lockdown was able to have their work viewed in person.