Art in times of crisis

The online exhibit How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This? raises the very same question many of us, museum and gallery professionals, have been asking ourselves since our daily routines were disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak. As the pandemic sweeps so many lives – including those of our colleagues, co-workers and people we admire in the art world and beyond – who cares about art anyway?

In uncertain times, art provides material with which to think and to reimagine the world. Here's Rpsana Paulino's "A Geometria à Brasileira Chega ao Paraíso Tropical (The Brazilian Geometries arrives at the Tropical Paradise)", 2018. Digital printing, collage and monotype on paper, 48 × 33 cm. Photo: Isabella Matheus. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood (Sao Paulo/New York)
Image: A Geometria à Brasileira Chega ao Paraíso Tropical (The Brazilian Geometries arrives at the Tropical Paradise), 2018. Digital printing, collage and monotype on paper, 48 × 33 cm. Photo: Isabella Matheus. Courtesy of the artist and Mendes Wood (Sao Paulo/New York)

Two months in quarantine and I’m still adjusting. I’ve been barely looking at art – not even the few pieces I have at home. These days, I’ve been mostly looking inside of me. I’ve been massively ignoring the overwhelming online offers, although sometimes I suffer from that contemporary malaise, “fear of missing out”. I’ve been drawn to art as usual, but in different and somewhat unexpected ways. I’ve been drawing and making watercolors (for the time being a bunch of flowers that keep reminding me that somehow spring thrives out there).

Still, How Can We Think of Art at a Time Like This? powerfully resonated with me. With new daily entries, and no exact date to end – just like this “new normal”, the exhibit serves as public forum, an interesting platform for exchange and dialogue. Here’s art at its best, showing us that, pretty much like in science, there aren’t easy and instant truths but rather an ongoing approximation to new concepts and registers, and a great deal of experimentation.

Rosana Paulino’s works spoke volumes to me. Addressing the Brazilian reality, she got to the core of the structural inequalities governing the world. With her gorgeous visual language, she seems to ask the questions we’ve been all thinking about: who is dying? Who is dying first? At the beginning of the current crisis, there was a sense that “we are all in this together”, that everybody was experiencing similar levels of anxiety due to the outbreak. As reality is sinking in differently for people, it has become clear that this is not really accurate. We are not in this together, or rather we are together, but somehow alone. In fact, many are being abandoned to their own fate.

As Rosana Paulino’s works show, the truth is that the current crisis mirrors everything that was right and wrong in our microcosmos and in the world at large. Life as we knew it has come to a halt. But how our future will look like? We don’t know yet. Amid so much uncertainty, what art does is to provide material with which to think and reimagine the world.

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