Artists’ troubles during a pandemic

THAI ARTIST Rirkrit Tiravanija’s banner “Morgen ist die Frage” (Tomorrow is the question) at the Berlin Berghain nightclub during Berlin Art Week. — WWW.BERLINARTWEEK.DE

BUSINESSES are closing left and right, but in this climate, we tend to overlook art and artists. Already a difficult life before the pandemic hit, coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has exacerbated and highlighted existing problems in the art world.

A problem that Klaus Hartung, owner of Transwing-Asian Fine Arts in Germany, and President of Transwing Art Gallery in Quezon City, repeatedly pointed out in his presentation during the German-Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GPCCI) seminar called “The Art Market Scene: Challenges and Opportunities During The Crisis,” is one present with or without a pandemic. “The main target for us, the artists, they have limited resources. There is hardly any social security system [for artists] worldwide, and artists are losing income,” he said.

As for the immediate effects of the pandemic, of course he pointed out the lack of sales by artists, and even the problems in procuring materials (due to both logistical and financial issues). He noted that not only artists are affected, but everybody else that makes the art world go round: gallerists like him, the venues, the construction companies, fair organizers, renting companies, magazines, their advertisers, and even insurance companies. “I talked to one of the presidents of an art insurance company. They expect around 10-20% loss in revenue,” Mr. Hartung noted. As for galleries, while some have opened, “Visitors don’t want to go out unnecessarily,” due to the fear of possible infection.

While some galleries and artists have moved some of their activities online, this has its limits. Mr. Hartung pointed out information and sensory overload from various advertisements in websites, as well as in the format itself. More importantly, “There is a certain [number] of people purchasing art online. Many want to see the artwork personally,” alluding to now-limited interactions between artist and buyer. Speaking of associations, he says that now, more artists are seeking to be aligned with galleries. “Some relationships and connections are perceived through recommendation.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to cancelations of various art fairs and countless exhibitions around the world. The Art Basel fairs this year have been canceled. “It is with a heavy-heart we are announcing the cancelation of Affordable Art Fair Singapore 2020, which was due to take place this November at the F1 Pit Building,” said the Singapore Affordable Art Fair’s website. Mr. Hartung pointed out that the Lucca Art Fair, also slated for November, has yet to cancel. “But you never know what will happen.”

While the uncertain climate precludes buyers from acquiring art, there is some light. Mr. Hartung pointed out that established names in art or works by deceased artists still find a way to a market. “They will have their way to sell to their regular customers,” he says. As for auction houses, “They still have remarkable sales, because they are used to online auctions.”

He made a few suggestions to alleviate the situation. One would be to buy artworks, or directly support an artist, at least in terms of acquiring materials. “Individuals with financial capabilities should have the social responsibility to purchase art.”

A more interesting point is commissioning works: “This could be an idea on how we can support our artists in the Philippines.

“We will survive by reaching out to each other, by helping each other. We need to support the Filipino artists so that soon, we’ll get to enjoy the artworks again, in person.”

Mr. Hartung, who is currently in Germany, flashed a picture of an installation at the Berlin Berghain nightclub which reopened as an art gallery early this month during Berlin Art Week. The installation is a great white banner by Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija painted with stark black letters saying, “Morgen ist die Frage” (Tomorrow is the question). “How could we expect months ago, years ago, that face masks, lockdown information, and similar things will one day end up on the canvas of an artist?

“The interpretation via the artist might change over time, but what remains is the artist’s desire to capture the sense of the situation.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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