Art Institutions Move Towards Online Viewing Rooms Amid Corona Virus

As most of the global population is put under lock down by the effects of the health pandemic Covid-19, the art world are currently wadding through uncertain and unchartered waters. Advancing digital technologies are enabling the collaboration of collectors, galleries and artists at a time of social isolation and physical distancing. 



The anticipated international art fair, Frieze, New York has been cancelled by organisers after it was supposed to open May 7-10. The executives of the fair offered refunds to participants in addition to launching Online Viewing Rooms for free, thereby allowing galleries to exhibit their work on a digital platform to collectors and buyers. An email from a Frieze organiser states “The Frieze Viewing Room gives new and established collectors, museum professionals, and the public the ability to digitally explore and acquire art from you and other world leading galleries…”



Other art fairs including Art Basel, Hong Kong also moved to the digital portal after being cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak in China. There is no doubt that like the rest of the world, the future of art fairs, galleries and cultural events has been thrown into chaos by the pandemic. In the face of these challenges of uncertainty, Art Basel introduced Online Viewing Rooms. The launch date of the fair’s online access was brought forward in response to the fair’s cancellation. Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel: “It became clear this was something we needed to accelerate and expand.” The Online Viewing Rooms went live from 20-25 March and initially crashed because of the mass of people viewing them. On reflection of the online fair, Art Basel saw the move to the digital realm, as positively giving more freedom to galleries to explore bolder creative curatorial ideas. 


The Online Viewing Rooms also gave access to virtual tours by gallerists and curators; Simon Wang, director of the Shanghai-based gallery Antenna Space, cohosted a virtual tour using the Zoom video-conferencing service with Boers-Li Gallery, Lisson Gallery, STPI, and Tina Keng Gallery. The virtual catalogue also includes previews for VIP pass holders. In total, 235 exhibitors took part, showing more than 2,000 works, with 250,000 visiting Art Basel Hong Kong's digital-only edition. ‘[The Online Viewing Rooms project] has been very helpful in bringing the works that we were to show at Art Basel Hong Kong to the attention of a worldwide audience,’ said Fred Scholle, chairman of the Hong Kong-based Galerie du Monde. The success of Art Basel’s digital spaces has apparently presented galleries and art institutions with a way around the problem of isolation, by taking the work online to showcase to collectors from around the globe. 


Another gallery which embraced the online viewing portals last year as part of their website redesign is Pace Gallery. Exhibitions across Pace’s ten global locations are now accessible online through the galleries virtual Viewing Rooms. Marc Glimcher, CEO of Pace Gallery said “Our hope for these online exhibitions is to use the voices of our dealers and curatorial team to create multi-media environments that really invoke an artist and the context in which they were making their work…This is just the beginning of a new era of experiencing art through digital realms.” These online exhibitions, provide interesting and detailed contextual lenses through which to view the artwork. A current show ‘Material Matters’ curated by Andria Hickey in Collaboration with Joe Baptista and Danielle Forest is now on view online. Divided into Artist sections, the exhibition is presented through high quality photographs of these corporal sculptures, accompanied by the curator’s text. For a show that relies on the materiality of the works and their human interaction, the show successfully uses close-up shots and videos, offering a detailed and immersive experience of the artworks, alongside art historically rigorous text. Taking the online viewer’s email before they enter the virtual exhibitions, also enables the gallery to collect attendee’s data which they might not have always been possible.



During this time of isolation where the London lockdown continues to keep galleries closed off from the public, Rhodes Contemporary is taking inspiration from the cutting edge spirit of these digital exhibitions. Last month we proudly presented the inaugural solo show ‘SOLAR’ by Jan Kalab. The show can now be viewed by more people than before through a virtual tour of the show, which can be viewed on the website:




A recent Guardian article ‘‘Beginning of a new era': how culture went virtual in the face of crisis Cultural spaces’ similarly discusses how galleries and cultural events are now developing VR and other digital technologies at a rapid rate, and are finding new advantages in a time when physical spaces are prohibited. Arts VR projects have been around for a while such as the The Met 360 Project, but these projects have always been about increasing viewership and remained niche. Recently, viewership on these online videos has risen by 150%, revealing the emerging need for cultural events and spaces to become digitalised. The article goes onto name a handful of collaborators working with artists to create VR augmented reality projects such as Acute Art, and the way the pandemic has pushed their projects to the forefront of the public’s attention. 


Can the visceral pleasure of human encounter ever be replaced by the digital experience? Does the digital reproductions only ever serve as an aide-memoir? The cases discussed certainly offer new inventive and creative ways of curating exhibitions which transcend the physical brick walls of the gallery space. It would appear that in a time where people are looking for new ways to communicate, explore and learn in a world that is no longer physically accessible, the move to the digital arena is seeing a definite surge in development and advancement. Will these digital advancements affect the way we experience art in the future?


Images courtesy of New York Frieze, Art Basel and Pace Gallery.

April 16, 2020