April 23, 2020

During these uncertain times, SMoCA has invited artists and staff to utilize our blog Inspire as an outlet to make meaningful connections by sharing personal reflections and insight into their practice.

Nellie King Solomon (right) with her mother and artist Barbara Stauffacher Solomon (left). Photo: Samira Bouabana. Hall of Femmes. 

Entry #1: Nellie King Solomon

Post COVID-19 Art World v12

April 4–15, 2020

While this is new for all of us, we do know people are at home more conscious than ever, looking for what’s to come, and watching each other. People are looking at their own walls, at that painting they still wished they had swapped out, but now others are looking at their walls too. We now know Ellen DeGeneres’s couch, Oprah’s living room, Dolly Parton’s piano bench, and Schwarzenegger’s kitchen sink. For now it’s charming, but they’re likely going to want to up their game. Through video posts, FaceTime, and Zoom, the private space just became the new virtual public. And there’s an indignity in the inversion of the public and private. Your walls just became your public “context.”

How long does this go on? Art world friends speculate a solid seven months, but that brings us right to next winter flu season. Others say we’ve likely gone to our last art fair. Bill Gates speculates about the next COVID. And we hope the World Health Organization will be building infrastructure and amassing foresight on how to handle COVID-21. 

The days of two buck chuck openings to get as many art students and hipsters as possible flooding in your door as a vague business plan may be over. I woke up this morning thinking how opposite a time this is to live in than the ʻ60s or the Roaring Twenties. And how juicy social free love party times are seen as the pinnacles of cultural production and innovation. Jerry Saltz loved the ʻ70s art world and reminds us that art is “something done against the rules of advanced capitalism. Art isn’t about professionalism, efficiency, insurance, and safety; it’s about eccentricity, risk, resistance, and adaptation.” So for those of us peaking now, what can our greatest contributions to these times be? 

Regardless of what we do or don’t know, or what we want things to be, I do think our appetites have changed. And those with means are going to want to protect themselves. Art collectors tend to be older with preexisting health conditions. Art may have to be offered like 19th century haute couture with white gloves by invitation and appointment only. Short professional videos of physical works become a must.  

Art handlers are going to have to become contractually guaranteed surgically sterile precise preparators with masks, gloves, and double layer paper booties over their street shoes, who voluntarily take their own temperatures to log and disclose 98.5 before entering a collector’s home. Work will need to sit fallow wrapped for two weeks to render inert of any COVID-19 before unwrapped in a collector’s home. We’ll need to develop new best practices for a leave no trace and no particle of DNA art installer teams. Anything less is rude, unsafe, and most likely unwelcome. It’s no longer just what we offer, but how we offer it.

The director of SMoCA expected 900 people to the Friday night opening of my upcoming exhibition. Now with a postponed date of October 2020, we plan to install two weeks early to make a short professional video of the exhibition; unpacking of the materials and meanings, with close-ups and narrations. I think that’s the best use of our budget and time in the current climate. We have to bring the exhibition to people’s homes.

It is a fascinating time ahead, where each museum, gallery, and artist will be watching the other to see how we might best navigate this new landscape. It becomes an unprecedented time of adaptation. Collectors will be searching for meaning, while surviving and presenting are all new.

Staying Alive . . . ooo oooh oooo . . .

By Nellie King Solomon Painter, MFA from CCA SF, educated in Architect at Cooper Union NYC, ex Prof of Art at Stanford University, currently based in Los Angeles.

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