Art under quarantine | Sunday Observer

Art under quarantine

After the coronavirus took over the art scene, along with pretty much every other sector; museums and galleries around the world were forced to shut down to try and mitigate the spread of the pandemic.

With the exception of online businesses, pretty much every other business has felt the disease’s impact heavily and an industry like art, which relies on people and places, is no exception.

Our resources for enjoying art, from art galleries to independent showcases, have all been shut down and kept out of reach. Many galleries are predicted to go out of business the world over and with them, so will the livelihoods of a great many artists. It has been months now and while the stranglehold the pandemic has on our nation seems to have loosened, its effects will continue to affect the industry.

“Even if the restrictions are relaxed, people will think twice before coming for an event,” said Dilrukshi Rambukwella, Administrative Secretary of the Lionel Wendt Art Centre. “Public gatherings have been banned and social distancing will not allow even a preview of exhibitions.”

However, with all avenues for physical exhibitions all but disappearing, art lovers starved for access will seek out other means, namely, the internet. While social media and a strong web presence has always been a part of the art industry but now, as the only source for people to experience art galleries, it has become the only remaining means for organisations to interact with their prospective customers. Galleries have been experiencing unprecedented levels of web traffic with visitors to web sites of art galleries and museums soaring in numbers.

Locally, the galleries that have had the foresight to prepare, have experienced incredible growth, such as Gallery FourLife.

Owner of FourLife, Chathuranga Biyagama said, “We worked to increase our artists’ base and creators’ base, and also I focused on increasing my social media base and developing internet traffic for my web platforms.” This strategy and preparation allowed Gallery FourLife to stand among the top three galleries of Sri Lanka in Social media and internet traffic.

Others have gone a step further and have even implemented virtual galleries, replicating the art gallery experience online. “The platform we have on our website allows us to replicate the experience digitally by providing the facilities for podcasts, video and written content as well as a ‘View in a Room’ facility that gives viewers a perspective view of the work on a virtual wall,” said Saskia Fernando, director of the Saskia Fernando Art Gallery.

“Our team has been working from home and will continue to run our gallery operation virtually for the next two months,” Fernando said.

Most other galleries, however, have been forced into a difficult position as they rely on people to keep afloat. This has especially affected galleries like the Sapumal Foundation, a gallery purely for art appreciation and do not deal in buying and selling art.

“We are a gallery open so people can see and appreciate good art. But lack of visitors has zeroed donations and sales of publications,” said Chairman of the Sapumal Foundation, Rohan de Soysa.

“Anyway, we will do our best to adapt to the conditions,” he said.

The galleries that act as art dealerships have things a little easier, as art auctions and such don’t require much of a physical presence and so can continue to find success online as exemplified by FourLife that continues to sell art through their e-commerce platform internationally, which has become especially popular under curfew. However, while this allows some galleries to continue to support Sri Lankan artists, even under curfew, the reality of the situation is that most galleries will be completely shut down for the foreseeable future, smaller art scenes will be all but wiped out and even after the pandemic is gone, the art world will be much smaller.

Though it might seem that the time for physical Art Galleries might be over for the foreseeable future, a work of art in person is very different to seeing it through a screen and so, there will always be a place for art galleries. In the end, even though art galleries and the like might be perceived as a decadent luxury, it will always be a part of us and as such will continue to endure. And despite galleries having to dip their toes into their creative roots to find solutions and make sacrifices, the art scene will continue to endure.