If this were any other day, New York would be bustling with life: fast-walking crowds, art exhibitions, cosmopolitan events, grand openings, and concerts. However, this isn’t any other day, and New York is almost unrecognizable in its quietness. From March 11, 2020, to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus, New York authorities have declared a state of emergency and halted any live entertainment events, including art exhibitions. Although some sectors of the economy have reopened since, art venues remain mostly closed. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, has recently announced that they would reopen in late August, but only for five days a week and under strict safety protocols. But most galleries are desperately trying to resume operations and considering options such as appointment-only visits or limiting capacities. For New Yorkers, who had been used to the city’s vibrant art scene and eclectic exhibits, this is a massive change.
New York has perhaps the most prominent art scene in the US; for years, its museums and galleries have served not just as entertainment, but also as a form of escapism of discovery. In the city that never sleeps, art galleries were a way of discovering new emerging artists and their unique vision of the world. They were also a way of networking, meeting like-minded people, and sharing the passion for beauty. The oldest art venues in New York had never closed shop for more than a couple of days, not even during the war, so to say that the art scene is facing unprecedented challenges would be an understatement.
Historically, art has been a respite in terms of hardship. The COVID-19 pandemic is different in that it closed down all our favorite venues but, looking back at the past, we can see that hard times have always helped art flourish. According to Wikipedia, 83 films are based on epidemics, and some of the world’s most beautiful paintings (Antonio Zanchi’s, for instance), were done during the plague. So, even if New Yorkers can’t explore art exhibits like they used to, that doesn’t mean they can no longer interact with their favorite artists or explore new creative concepts.
Translating the multimedia experience in a virtual environment
In the time of the COVID-19, art is going digital, and Marko Stout was one of the first to experiment with the concept. The acclaimed New York artist launched his “Erotic Allure” Exhibition in March, and the response from critics has been overwhelmingly positive. The latest installment of the Erotic Allure series features a series of mixed media portraits celebrating the independence and sensuality of New York women. Originally from South Africa, Marko Stout combined fierce shades of red, yellow, and green to express the strength exuded by these women, managing to create an irresistible mix of contemporaneity and exoticism. This “immortalization of pop glamor” was also made possible by the striking juxtapositions between aluminum bases and vibrant dyes, which the digital gallery managed to pick up perfectly.
Marko Stout is one of the most notable presences on the New York art scene. Prior to the pandemic, his exhibitions gathered a record number of art lovers and celebrities alike. In addition to being loved by critics, Stout also conquered the hearts of celebrities like The Kardashians, Debra Messing, Billie Eilish, Melissa Etheridge RuPaul, so his events have always been vibrant and cosmopolitan. Of course, with brick-and-mortar venues mostly closed, online events were there to pick up the baton. As a self-declared multimedia artist, Marko Stout was open to the idea and was excited to break the boundaries of what a virtual exhibition could do (in fact, he had hosted online exhibits in the past), so a gallery on his official website came as a natural next step. The gallery, which is still available now, drew in many art lovers and perfectly managed to capture the industrial-pop appeal of his usual exhibitions. It was a cornerstone moment, not only for his career but also for the entire New York art scene because it proved that you do not have to be physically present to enjoy good art.
Marko Stout’s Erotic Allure collection was praised by critics in publications like Forbes, Entrepreneur, International Business Times, Art Daily, The Art Insider, and The London Economic.
Amidst social distancing guidelines, social media bridges the gap between the artist and the viewer
It’s not just online galleries that complete the new art experience. Those are essential, of course, but social distancing rules have also created a sort of disconnect between artists and their fans. Brick-and-mortar exhibitions were an occasion for art lovers and their favorite creators to connect, discuss ideas, and share their insights and creative process. With that no longer possible, artists are now relying on social media to create mini-communities and engage with the audience. For example, Marko Stout uses Instagram, a platform that is, by nature, designed for visual content to bridge the divide created by the COVID-19 pandemic and connect with his followers. Nowadays, social media often fuels anxiety and uncertainty, so seeing it turn into a place for creativity and reflection is very refreshing.
What’s next for the New York art scene?
So far, 2020 has been a challenging year for the art world, and until a vaccine is widely available, challenges will continue to come. Fortunately, the art world has also been quick to adapt, and digital exhibitions such as Marko Stout’s have proven that art can thrive in the hardest of times. In the past months, many New York museums and galleries have switched to online events and, considering the size of online audiences, this could turn out to be not just a temporary COVID-19 solution but also a long-term addition to traditional exhibitions. Apart from digital galleries, live streaming could also become an option once venues reopen. However, one thing is for sure: only the most creative artists will thrive in this crisis. In a time when audiences value meaning, empathy, and human connection, it’s time for artists to think outside the box and imagine new ways of interacting with fans.