When the pandemic hit, I retreated to the solace of my studio because making ceramics and binging on podcasts were the only things that kept me sane. My gallery sold a few pieces at virtual art fairs, and I’m having two solo exhibitions this spring—one in New York and the other, slightly later in Paris. My new work feels very much in sync with our times and meaningful to share right now, but instead of excitement I have the sinking feeling that nobody will see my shows because of the never-ending Covid crisis. Personally, I don’t look at online exhibitions, and it’s depressing to think I can’t participate in my installs or attend my openings because of travel restrictions. I know the vaccines are slowly rolling out, but the timing of everything sucks and I just don’t want these shows to happen. Should I follow my gut and ask to reschedule or take a deep breath and roll with it?
First off, congrats on hunkering down and making art in the medical and mental maelstrom of 2020. Last year, eight million Americans fell into poverty, hundreds of thousands were hooked up to ventilators, and countless others spent their time plotting a civil war while you were busy creating two exhibitions’ worth of work. We aren’t trying to diminish your artistic dilemma. Rather, we want to illustrate how this pandemic has infected everyone with cognitive dissonance and a warped perspective.
The art market’s buoyancy during the crisis has contributed to this unfolding tale of two worlds. Galleries and auction houses report continued sales while mom-and-pop restaurants, Turkish bathhouses, and licensed cuddle therapists continue to disappear at alarming rates. Artists everywhere are asking each other how it is that their galleries still exist. The gears keep moving because collectors remain flush with cash and shopping from bed is better than not shopping at all. In order to survive, galleries burdened with the responsibility of staff salaries and rent are more than happy to be Grubhubs for high-networth snack attacks and midnight munchies.
Your predicament is real, but compared to what most people are dealing with these days, it’s a luxury problem that hundreds of thousands of artists would love to have. Maybe you don’t see a place for your pinch pots and lopsided mugs in the Tron-like cyberworld of online exhibitions, but is this a reason not to have a show? If your art is truly of and about this moment, then you ought to exhibit it right now, because others may really need to see it. Think of your work like the vaccine: it could make an impact that will last for years, but if you keep it locked up it may arrive too late to make a difference.
I’m pursuing my doctorate in microbiology and am short on funds, so my roommate’s friend helped me get a one-off job working for an artist. This person has a “creative” relationship to real science, and I was tasked with some pretty half-baked research for an upcoming commission. That was a few months ago, and I now see that the artist is an anti-vaxxer who is pushing healing crystals on Instagram. I am shocked by how many art world people are loving their posts! As a scientist, do I have an ethical responsibility to refute these claims on social media because my research is being used for them?
Art appreciation and doing drugs have long gone hand-in-hand, so when it comes to the Covid vaccine, we hope that aesthetes everywhere will shoot it up straightaway. A rebuke buried in the comments of the artist’s Instagram may go unnoticed, but contacting the commissioning institution directly could force an actual conversation. In addition to speaking out loudly against this person in the name of science, as a microbiologist you must start doing your part to create an antidote that will stop numbskull artists and wellness fascists from superspreading moist YouTube science and noxious Goop vibes to the gullible during a pandemic. Doc, find us a cure!
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This article appears in the March/April 2021 issue, p. 19.