The art world is a social industry, and in order for it to operate, collaboration between professionals and artists with organizations is essential. Above all, the livelihood of art is dependent on art’s interaction with the public –– “the segment of society that visits museums, libraries, galleries, concert halls, cineplexes, circuses, and theaters…” (Juan A. Gaitán). Museums, organizations, and artists create work for the purpose of exchanging ideas, visuals, and conversations with viewers and consumers of art. How can art subsist in a time where access to public institutions is limited? The sudden changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have created an urgency for professionals to rethink how art can effectively communicate and remain accessible to its public audiences. The organization, Art at a Time Like This Inc., is an online space that is responding to the current and uncertain conditions by upholding a mission “ to provide a platform for the free exchange of ideas at times of crisis.”
A non-profit 501(c)3 institution, Art at a Time Like This Inc. (ATLT), was founded during the second week of March 2020 by New York based curator Anne Verhallen and international art critic, specifically known for her knowledge of Chinese Art, Barbara Pollack. As ATLT’s website states, “On March 14th, 2020, in quick reaction to the US’s gallery and museum closures, the two writers-curators and longtime collaborators immediately spent the weekend to kick start a group show to respond to the crisis.” Now, at nine months in, ATLT is a recognized association that has produced six online exhibitions, hosted various live events, gained over 5,000 Instagram followers, and developed working relationships with over 100 international artists. Art She Says reporter Jenny Hughes expresses that, “The non-profit hopes to generate intergenerational, cross-cultural, and global conversation on its platform, while keeping artists and creatives at the center of curatorial practices.”
Created with exigency, thanks to the efforts of Verhallen and Pollack, ATLT is a response to the growing social and political conditions that have percolated worldwide throughout the year. According to Verhallen, the platform and its programming “grew organically very quickly,” and the initial reactions from audiences were sweeping as “the first online exhibit accumulated over 150,000 viewers in over 100 countries.” Because the contents of ATLT’s opening exhibit, How Can We Think of Art a Time Like This?, are virtual, the artworks visible to an extraordinarily expansive public –– this audience reach is one of the positive effects that virtual platforms offer. With a 60 artist queue, the exhibit virtually presented a new project by a different artist each day. As curators, Verhallen and Pollack invited creators “who are considered thought leaders, artists who struggle with futuristic pessimism, political outrage and psychic melt-downs,” to participate in the exhibition.
Participating artist, Jim Goldberg, shared excerpts from a 2011 project called Postcards from America. According to Goldberg, “This extensive body of work glimpses into the changing social climate of a country struggling to define itself.” Contributing artists Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher express that, “As we all scramble to practice social distancing we are maintaining our humanity through technology. Without becoming techno-evangelists, we do have to realize that without these tools at our disposal, we would be in a much harder place. And we must recognize that those without reliable access will suffer the most.” Aziz and Cucher construct large-scale tapestry murals derived from cotton and wool of complex scenes that “illustrate everyday scenes of on-going conflict that can be read as historical paintings of the present moment,” co-opting images of soldiers, farmers, and scientists in hazmat suits.
ATLT has also put focus on how art exhibitions can physically manifest outside of public places (such as museums, galleries, and theatres) by creating the public art exhibit Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020. Verhellan expresses, “that our way of interacting and our way of consuming information and art has changed. Not only did we develop a new relationship with the online space, but also with the outdoor, public space.” The organization’s 5th exhibit opened in October and is inspired by the dystopian themes found in George Orwell’s 1984 novel. Ministry of Truth: 1984/2020 was curated to reflect “the US political state leading up to the election.”
Presenting works by 20 artists in the form of 20 billboards, the exhibition project was created in collaboration with the New York organization Save Art Space (SAS). SAS is also a non-profit platform that places “culture over commercialism,” by “turning advertising space into art,” and “to create an urban gallery experience, launching exhibitions that address intersectional themes and foster a progressive message of social change.” Over 1200 artists submitted ideas, and the final cohort ranged “from graduate students and self-taught artists to those who are world-famous and renowned.” The exhibit and these organizations’ efforts were highlighted in the recent New York Times article The Most Important Art Moments in 2020.
As an organization, ATLT is intentionally putting focus on emerging and established artists that value non-profit projects over commercial endeavours. These artists are generating important political and social responses to the rapidly shifting conditions of society. Additionally, ATLT provides an open-access space for a wide range of viewers to learn about new artists, events, and political happenings. They also generate opportunities for open discussion, inviting people to start a conversation on their website by submitting comments, responses, images, and other materials. Through innovative practices, ATLT have provided a comprehensive space for both artists and the public to exchange ideas during a time of incertitude and crises.
If you would like to learn more about Art at a Time Like This or view their online exhibitions visit their website here.