When a restaurant can no longer serve food, it withers and dies. But when a museum closes its doors, an opportunity arises.
So when COVID-19 forced so many of our cultural institutions to go into lockdown, the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum took a decidedly global approach to the dilemma – its first major virtual exhibition.
Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of Coronavirus, on view through December at a computer near you, includes a rank of international artists responding to crisis and fills a need for people craving a visual narrative.
“The world got turned upside down by the pandemic,’’ says Christian Viveros-Fauné, the show’s curator. “Museums are having to reinvent themselves from the bottom up because you no longer can walk around a gallery and look at objects. We had to rewrite the mission and come up with another way. And the only other way is to do so virtually.’’
The exhibition seizes the Internet as an artistic platform, especially in a time of crisis. Not only are we dealing with a public health emergency, Viveros-Fauné says, but the public reaction following the death of an unarmed African American at the hands of the police in Minneapolis.
“We got thrown for a loop by this massive outbreak and the racial violence from the murder of George Floyd,’’ he says. “We had to respond to that.’’
Through the works of artists from more than two dozen countries, the exhibition strives to mobilize sentiment, thought and activity around art and its enduring possibilities – its role as a conceptual catalyst, and art’s ability to trigger ideas, stories, conversations, emotions, feelings and mental states.
The artists and their work are deeply varied, but connected through their ideas of society in crisis. Still, the show conveys images of hope, and it will continue to resonate as new artists and materials are added over the summer and fall.
“It’s an evolving show in a couple of ways,’’ Viveros-Fauné adds. “We didn’t want to put everything online at once in a data dump. What we wanted to establish is what an institution can do in real time, which is continuous engagement. More and more artists will be added every week.’’
Keeping the show interactive is an ongoing series of dialogues with artists from around the word, and each event will be archived. Viewers can sign up for alerts on talks and events though the end of the year.
Although the museum’s doors are closed, it may well be reaching its largest audience ever. This speaks volumes about the institution’s flexibility, Viveros-Fauné explains.
“It’s not easy to do this, but the people who work here got behind this project quickly,’’ he says. “We had to re-learn how to (present a show) again under these circumstances.’’
LIFE DURING WARTIME: ART IN THE AGE OF THE CORONAVIRUS
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