The social and emotional value of art and culture has become all the more apparent this past pandemic year. To keep their doors from shutting permanently and their exhibitions active while providing a space for artists and audiences, many independent art galleries in Los Angeles have embraced technology, tapped into their visitor base, social media outlets, and turned up creativity. As the world creeps toward cautious re-opening, these new practices are being integrated into the “new normal.”
One of the initial moves galleries made was taking advantage of their social media. Instagram was the first place Art Angels in West Hollywood, which specializes in contemporary and provocative art, and Eastern Projects in Chinatown, which calls itself “a love letter to LA,” turned to connect with their viewers. Eastern Projects provided walking tours of the gallery on Instagram Live, showcasing the work and answering viewers’ questions; Art Angels enhanced what they were doing already on the platform by involving their artists.
“We had our artists show what they were working on by sharing images of pieces in their studios,” says Art Angels’ co-founder, Kat Emery. “We started adding installation shots and ‘the making of’ work-in-progress videos from artists.”
The new contemporary art space Corey Helford Gallery in DTLA hosted their virtual openings on Instagram Live. The gallery’s curator Caro Buermann and its director, Sherri J. Trahan, teamed up for these events — Buermann conducts the virtual tours while Trahan responds to viewers online. Also on hand are the artists who share insights and take questions. In addition to photo albums of each exhibition available on the gallery’s Facebook page following the opening, the work-in-progress images and pre-and post-opening videos have always been provided.
“We reached out to some of the talented photographers we’ve worked with to help us develop self-guided virtual tours for our exhibitions,” says Trahan, citing Birdman and Eric Minh Swenson as two of the photographers and videographers who have been involved in creating dynamic and interactive tours of Corey Helford.
Art Angels has also reimagined their shows in a virtual space. “We re-curated the gallery for a virtual show,” says the gallery’s other co-founder Jacquelin Napal. “A camera was placed in each part of the gallery. It does a 3-D spin to capture everything in the space. When we post the video on our website, it provides a collector with a virtual walk-through of the space and allows to move in closer to the paintings, plus stop and start views at their own pace using their cursor on the screen.”
Another purveyor of the new contemporary art movement, Thinkspace Projects, relocated from Culver City to a much bigger building in West Adams mid-pandemic.
“We have already been providing our entire inventory online, have an active webshop, digital previews for all our exhibitions, and video recaps of the opening receptions for some years,” says the gallery’s curator and co-owner, Andrew Hosner. “When the pandemic hit, we pivoted to making them more about the works. We had artists send in voiceovers and put together video tours of the shows for our vast social network. The one new thing we added was the virtual self-guided tour aspect. Our patrons the world over have been loving to have the chance to walk through the space and look at the works at their own pace.”
As routine visits with artists weren’t an option anymore for Thinkspace, the artists brought their studio to the gallery via video. “They sent tons of footage of themselves painting, their studio and supplies, their daily trip to their studio, their pets, and an audio track, all recorded and shot on their iPhones. Our A/V guy works his editing magic, and we’ve got a nice clip we can share all over our socials.”
Eastern Projects was prepped for the opening reception of Frank Romero’s Coquelicots when the city mandated that public places should only allow 45 persons or less. Within days of the opening, the first lockdown happened. According to the gallery owner Rigo Jimenez, Romero sold 80% of the show, even though the entire exhibition went online and the in-person viewing was eventually reduced to three people at a time. ” Quite a feat, considering it was the start of the shutdown and attendance was significantly impacted.”
Art Angels’ exhibition A Battle Won with PUNKMETENDER’s signature butterflies was set to open the first week of the lockdown. In addition to 3D online viewing, the gallery took advantage of its transparent glass walls that allow art to be seen from the street and even from passing cars, extended the physical show to the outside with a 100-foot mural wrapped around the building. “We chose PUNKMETENDER because butterflies are a powerful symbol of hope and transformation in a period of challenging and uncertain times,” says Emery. “He certainly delivered on this mural, bringing the life of the gallery to the streets in this time of closure.”
Art Angels took advantage of their positioning to deliver “drive-by art” to the community. They partnered with digital media company Standardvision to bring two of Micah Johnson’s works, “sä-v(ə-)rən-tē” (pronounced sovereignty) and a piece from his Black Sheep collection to massive, traffic-stopping billboards.
The limited in-person visits that have taken place through the pandemic have been by appointment. John Valadez’s timely Pinturas Pandemia saw 10 visitors at a time with 30-minute intervals at Eastern Projects. Art Angels provided rapid Covid-19 testing onsite for its Russell Young Heroes and Heroines exhibition. This allowed for a six-hour reception and by-appointment viewing with the artist present, making for an exclusive, one-on-one experience.
“We plan to continue building on such experiences, incorporating full immersion both inside and outside of the gallery and throughout the city, with larger-than-life installations,” says Emery. “We’ve been extremely specific about the shows we’ve done during this time. If anything, the pandemic has pushed us to be two steps ahead and innovate creatively with our platforms, especially with how we bring our works to collectors. It’s all progress and positive. We will continue to incorporate the changes as standard practice.”
“The pandemic has helped us grow on an international level,” says Hosner. “We’ve hosted many sold-out shows, and most shows have been averaging more people seeing them in the virtual realm than have ever seen them in the physical world in the past. Between tour video, studio tours, going live on Instagram, and so forth, we’re averaging around 10,000 views per exhibition. It’s pretty wild.”