Art in a time of Covid-19

With galleries shuttered and art exhibitions postponed indefinitely, the global art scene – which generated about US$64.1 billion (S$90.5 billion) in sales in 2019 according to Clare McAndrew, the brains behind The Art Market Report – is suffering.

Museums, art dealers, both big and small, and auction houses have reacted quickly, with many banding together to ride out the crisis. Many major exhibitions, including blue-chip biennale Art Basel Hong Kong, are now hosted virtually, complete with requisite oral narration or a curated Spotify playlist. Eminent auctioneers such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s are also accepting bids online.

Artists, like famed graffitist Banksy, have taken to Instagram to share their depictions of the outbreak. His irreverent impression of rats wreaking havoc in his bathroom – cheekily captioned, “My wife hates it when I work from home” – offer necessary respite from more serious news flooding our feeds.

Other artists’ expressions of the outbreak capture moments unique to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some just hope to share comfort and bring people together in a time of crisis. Regardless, their quarantine oeuvres speak of humanity’s collective hope for the future.

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Window dressing: Pejac

Spanish painter Silvestre Santiago, better known as Pejac, made his mark with provocative art interventions, outdoor murals and artworks on more traditional mediums like oils and sculptures, and has used his work as a platform to comment on everything from climate change to Brexit. For the latter, he recreated Van Gogh’s Starry Night directly on the hood of an iconic British marque, the Jaguar.

Now, the artist has revived one of his old concepts in his Madrid home – silhouettes drawn on windows interacting with the outside world – and invited others confined to their homes to join in and create urban art.

“In these strange days of global lockdown, I believe creativity can be one of the best therapies to fight anxiety and boredom,” he says. Launched on social media as the #StayArtHomePejac campaign, he’s received countless submissions from more than 50 different countries.

Any drawing implement, from cut-outs to Sharpies, are game for the series. Think hot air balloons floating over far-off forests, a tight rope artist on telephone lines or star-crossed lovers meeting atop a basilica.

According to Pejac, the project captures this historic moment as well as humanity’s desire to return to the outside world once it’s all over.

(Related: How bespoke design is staying in the game during the Covid-19 pandemic)

Pain au lampshade: Yukiko Morita

Bread has considerable heritage and significance in cultures worldwide. Not only is it a staple of nutrition in culture-specific recipes, it also has substantial religious importance. Artist Yukiko Morita’s lampshades are a celebration of bread’s sociocultural significance as well as its ability to bring comfort and joy.

While working at a bakery, the comforting aroma and distinct artistry of baking bread spurred Morita to start Pampshade. The portmanteau blends pain, the French word for bread, with lampshade. The warm glow of light, much like bread, brings comfort in a time of anxiety. It was only natural for the artist to combine the two in 2006 although she didn’t begin selling the lamps until a decade later.

Though she initially hand-moulded every loaf, she now also collects leftover loaves from nearby bakeries to recycle them as Pampshades. A Pampshade production kit is in the works, says Morita, to provide comfort to those confined during the lockdown in Japan.

“Many people around the world are living anxious lives,” she says. “I would like to make works that can help with such anxiety as much as possible.”

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Minutes in isolation: Derrick Lin

Armed with only a reading lamp, tiny figurines and an iPhone, artist Derrick Lin finds time to depict the minutiae of everyday life. Born in 2013, the series was an outlet for Lin’s feelings on working in the frenetic advertising industry.

He creates miniature scenes depicting the everyday frustrations and triumphs of a nine-to-five: from endless, inefficient meetings to a chronic reliance on a morning cup of joe. Lin’s Instagram account (@marsder), where he shares these scenes, quickly gained a rabid following. He soon released a book compiling his scenes called Work, Figuratively Speaking.

Over time, his uniquely relatable tableaus have evolved. More than just work, they celebrate life’s hidden beauties – the joy of travel, meeting loved ones and the anticipation of spring.

More recently, Lin’s life in Seattle was disrupted by Covid-19. Living in one of America’s most heavily affected areas inspired some of his latest works. While some portray the fears of contagion, others capture the little moments of connection in a lockdown that make a difference. “Distance never stops us from caring about each other,” he captions (right).

Says Lin, “My photography series, at its core, is all about visualising thoughts, moods and feelings we tend to keep to ourselves and it’s often centred around my life and surroundings. With my work, I went from being scared of the crisis to quickly pivoting to look for the bright spots in humanity as more and more stories of people helping people started to emerge.”

Once the crisis is over, artworks like Lin’s will be the reminders of the little things we do to make a difference in each other’s lives within – and without – crises.

(Related: State of the arts: How some artists and galleries have banded together in trying times)