All, Art, Community, Content Creation, Culture

Experiencing Art and Culture in Lockdown: What’s Changed and How Will We Adapt?

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Before lockdown, we might have filled our Saturday afternoons with a trip to a museum after brunch with friends, ending the day in a South Kensington pub to discuss the exhibition we’d seen.

Now the galleries, museums, cafes, pubs, and other weekend hangout spots are closed due to COVID-19, we’ve had to make our own fun when it comes to experiencing art and culture.

Fortunately, virtual tours, webinars, podcasts and video series allow us to get our culture fix from home. Museums and galleries across the world are working hard to bring cultural content into our living rooms, keeping that connection with art and history alive.

As we start to look towards the end of lockdown, it’s becoming clear that our relationship with museums will look different for a while yet — potentially changing for good. So how have we adapted and what will art and culture experiences look like in the future? Here are a few ways we see people enjoying and engaging with art, history and heritage in the months and years to come.

Enjoying culture from home

Some gallerists, museum curators, artists, tour guides and culture vultures have seized this opportunity, offering online material to satisfy our cultural cravings. The British Museum, for example, now has nearly 4.5 million objects and 1.9 million photographs in its digital archive, after adding 300,000 new images since their doors closed. The Museum’s online traffic is up 120% on last year, highlighting the importance of a strong digital presence to complement its physical collection.

The British Museum is the world’s largest indoor space on Google Street View.

Google Arts & Culture has been a fantastic resource for exploring museums and galleries around the world during lockdown. Using hi-res image technology, you can wander round an exhibition, looking at high-resolution images of famous artworks and artefacts from your sofa.

You can browse artworks by time period, colour or museum collection, and the platform has editorial pieces highlighting weekly favourites, hidden details, and stories behind pieces of art.

Thanks to Google Arts & Culture, museum curators, historians and art experts, we’ve actually been treated to more content than we might have experienced during a physical visit. Podcasts, mini online festivals and virtual tours offer expert insights, stimulating conversation and a behind-the-scenes look at museums and historical sites.

One such museum creating content waves is the Courtauld Gallery in London. They’ve been hosting an ‘Open Hour’ each Thursday in May: a new, free digital events series with talks by industry leaders, explorations of individual works and live poetry readings.

With live-stream events, conferences and Q&A’s being offered widely for free, it’s easier than ever to join the conversation around art and culture. It only takes a quick hashtag search on Twitter – #MuseumFromHome, #GettyMuseumChallenge, #MuseumMomentOfZen – to see fun, helpful and inspiring updates in real-time.

The power of virtual connections

Since mid-March, the cultural sector’s physical presence has been greatly diminished. At the same time, unsurprisingly, virtual engagement has skyrocketed.

This digital connection has helped fill a void during isolation. It’s provided a means to interact with people and places near and far. More than that, it’s given us the unique opportunity to get to know and learn from museum curators, gallerists and art experts.

Through video and social platforms, they share their favourite artefacts, uncover the story behind paintings and discuss the power of art to move us, entertain us and transport us to another place and another time.

Barnaby Wright speaking at the first Courtauld Gallery ‘Open Hour’

Virtual museum tours aren’t anything new, but there’s been a surge in their popularity since the lockdown began. They’ve allowed us to continue to see and experience art even while doors are closed. And now that, in light of this crisis, we know online tours can be done in a fulfilling, informative way, they could play a vital role in the future of museums.

Online experiences allow people to explore exhibitions and displays that fascinate them regardless of where they’re located. They open up history and culture to all sectors of society: those with disabilities who find some museums and galleries difficult to access, people in rural areas who don’t live near a major exhibition, people with unusual schedules who can’t always visit during opening hours, and many more. This inclusivity and accessibility is essential to the future of the museum industry.

File:Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao (31273245344).jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Fancy a visit to Bilbao’s Guggenheim? You can do it from your sofa.

Of course, nothing can truly replace a visit to a museum, experiencing culture with other people, with strangers, and seeing artefacts and art in person. But this renewed online connection will undoubtedly change the way we experience museums for a while yet.

How will museums look post-COVID-19?

In some countries around the world, museum and gallery doors are beginning to reopen, testing the waters for socially distanced visits. At the Brandenburg State Museum for Modern Art in Cottbus, Germany, which reopened on 1st May, lines on the floor in the museum foyer mark the advised distance between visitors, and the total number of visitors at one time is limited to 100.

Neon tape marks social distancing for ticket purchases at the Gropius Bau museum in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In Brussels, Belgium, safety measures planned for reopenings in mid-May include one-way visitor traffic, a quota of hourly admission numbers and a halting of audio guides for hygiene reasons. Sensible suggestions — and they could give an indication of what to expect in the UK once we’re at the stage of reopening museums.

Across the pond, a ‘drive-by art’ exhibition in Long Island, NY last weekend displayed another way we can recreate the gallery experience outside. The works of 52 artists were displayed on front lawns, fences, driveways and pavements, with local residents turning up in their cars to see the exhibition.

The sculptor Monica Banks winked at the signature hedges of the Hamptons with “Brains in Our Arms,”  steel wool octopuses positioned in her own hedge.

Monica Banks’ steel wool octopus sculptures ‘Brains in Our Arms’, in her hedge in Long Island. (Photo: Bryan Derballa for The New York Times)

The organiser, artist and theorist Warren Neidich, is planning another exhibition in Los Angeles later in the month, also based around the question of: “how do we show empathy and solidarity in this new age?”. Whether it’s east London street art or front garden sculptures, community art is something we can all enjoy, safely, while social distancing. 

What about the theme of upcoming exhibitions? Interestingly, the chronicling of this historic pandemic by museums has already begun, with the V&A, Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery collecting items and photographs of life in lockdown.

Impacting almost every aspect of daily life, it’s likely that COVID-19 will be the subject of artistic and historical exhibitions fairly contemporaneously. The Brandenburg State Museum for Modern Art, for example, has reopened with a video about solutions devised by history’s artists and architects for personal protection in public, such as Weegee’s ‘Boy Meets Girl – From Mars’ (1955).

“Boy meets girl - from Mars” by Weegee (Arthur Fellig), ca. 1955, New York (NY), gelatin silver print, image: 8 1/2 x 7 3/8 in. Accession number: 16855.1993. Credit: Bequest of Wilma Wilcox, 1993. © Getty Images/ICP

Weegee’s ‘Boy Meets Girl – From Mars’ (1955)
(Photo: Bequest of Wilma Wilcox, 1993. © Getty Images/ICP

As we tentatively look towards the end of lockdown and the reopening of museums and galleries, it’s difficult to say what the ‘new normal’ will be for the cultural industries. If current trends are anything to go by, the future of museums involves socially distanced visits with reduced numbers. On the business side, a strong digital strategy has and will be more important than ever.

People are still hungry for art, history and heritage: virtual tours, informative content and expert insights continue to keep cultural experiences intact. For museums, now is a great opportunity to reevaluate the accessibility of culture: digital exhibitions have the potential to open up the world of art and history to vast sectors of society that might otherwise miss out. If there is a silver lining in this, let it be a celebration of culture made available to everyone.

All, Art, Arts & Heritage, Cultural heritage, Culture, London

Show Some Love For London: 5 Ways To Celebrate The City’s Culture

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While Cupid and romantic gestures normally take centre stage on St. Valentine’s Day, we’re here to show some love for the city we call home: an ode to London, one of the world’s great cultural capitals.

Whether you want to illuminate your evenings with rising stars at the National Theatre, or clear your mind with a walk along the River Thames, London has something to warm everyone’s hearts, from the history buff to the foodie, theatre-lover to art connoisseur.

To celebrate its rich and limitless culture, we’ve rounded up our favourite ways to fall in love with London, today and always.

1. Discover unique heritage sites

To love London is to love London’s history, and with two thousand years under its belt, this city has a lot to share.

From UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as Maritime Greenwich, Westminster Abbey and Kew Gardens, to preeminent landmarks of Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral, the majestic monuments and buildings certainly throw light upon the history of London.

St Pauls Cathedral

St. Paul’s Cathedral
Photo: Rachael Davis

When it comes to cultural history, however, it’s the stories of ordinary people in ordinary places that are most enlightening. Look off the beaten track for little-known wonders, such as Britain’s smallest police station in Trafalgar Square, the icon of Modernist architecture 2 Willow Road, or a taste of the darker side of London’s history (infamously south of the river) at The Ferryman’s Seat or Cross Bones Graveyard.

2. Trade for wares at a London Market

From Portobello Road to Spitalfields, Borough to Broadway, London is famous for its markets. They are a cultural staple with histories longer than most of the city itself, though they have vastly changed over the years.

Borough Market
Photo: Jonas Bengtsson on Flickr

London Bridge’s Borough Market started over a thousand years ago, after the construction of the first medieval bridge over the Thames. The road which is now Borough High Street was once a vital passageway between London – the walled city on the north bank of the river – to the ports and towns of the south. The market was conceived as a place for farmers, bakers and fishermen to sell their wares to travellers. Now, it’s a foodies’ mecca: “an institution of international renown” where you’ll find street food, produce and restaurants from a variety of cuisines.

Greenwich Market’s beginnings are similar with its start as a market for livestock, meat, fish and animal produce in the 14th century. Now it’s London’s only historic market within a World Heritage Site – Greenwich Maritime – and is known for artisan crafts and street food.

3. Explore London’s greenery and the River Thames

Parks are an essential aspect of London’s culture. They create pockets of greenery, giving Londoners space to reflect, exercise, walk dogs and meet friends while connecting with nature.

London is very green: 47% of Greater London is green space, 33% of which is “natural habitats within open space” according to Greenspace Information for Greater London.

The emphasis on parkland within the city dates back centuries, with the eight Royal Parks being a core aspect of city life since the Tudor period. The Royal Parks were originally Church property until King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries and seized the land, turning much of it into private hunting ground. The parks gradually became open to the public after Henry VIII’s reign, and now they are open for all to enjoy.

Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
Photo: Rachael Davis

In addition to the grand Royal Parks, there are also dozens of public parks and commons such as Battersea Park, Victoria Park and Holland Park – a must-visit for its Kyoto Garden.

The River Thames and its surrounding canals are another refreshing source of natural inspiration within the city. There’s not much better than a Sunday stroll along Regent’s Canal, or through Little Venice – and if you’re feeling adventurous, the Thames Path walk will guide you from the beautiful Cotswolds countryside to the Thames Barrier in Greenwich, with plenty of sights to see along the way.

4. Experience The World Stage

Since the Elizabethan era, London has been the epicentre of performing arts in the UK. Shakespeare’s legacy is still making waves in the city, not least at the famous Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames, which he helped open in 1599. The theatre’s third reconstruction has two stages – one open-air and one indoor – with a year-round calendar of world-class performances.

The Globe Theatre
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the south bank, London’s performing arts scene is booming: from plays and musicals to ballets and operas, the capital is spoilt for choice when it comes to theatre. Head to the West End and Soho for big-name musicals, the National Theatre for world-class plays on three separate stages, and smaller theatres like Orange Tree, Lyric or The Cockpit for off-beat, independent and fringe shows.

In the summer, be sure to check out one of London’s open-air theatres. There’s one in Regent’s Park with productions of musicals, Shakespeare plays and more, and an outdoor opera theatre in Holland Park. It goes without saying that the open-air performances at The Globe are a delight on summer evenings, with tickets for as little as £5 in the ‘peasant’ stands!

5. Embrace the vibrant art scene

London’s art scene is diverse, wide-reaching and, for the most part, free. Explore art from the Middle Ages to today in galleries ranging from national institutions – such as the National Gallery, Tate Modern and Tate Britain, and Royal Academy of Arts – to smaller contemporary exhibitions on Mayfair’s Cork Street and in the East End.

Royal Academy of Arts
Photo: Rachael Davis

On a day when it isn’t raining (or even when it is, this is London after all), step outside and soak in the vast array of public art that can be found in all corners of the city. The Royal Academy of Art’s Walking Tour is a great place to start: it takes you from Piccadilly Circus to Regent’s Park, Westminster to Battersea, with a fascinating range of sculpture along the way.

Many of London’s famous landmarks also feature intricate sculptures and engravings. Though you might be hard-pushed to make out the details of Edward Hodges Baily’s statue of Lord Nelson, you can always get up-close and personal with Maggi Hambling’s expressionist Oscar Wilde near Charing Cross…

‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’ by Maggi Hambling
Photo: Luke McKernan on Flickr

With all of these treasures right in our backyard, how will you choose to celebrate London’s one-of-a-kind culture?

Tell us your favourite way to paint the town red in the comments below.

All, Art, Arts & Heritage, Content Creation, Culture

The New Cork Street: 5 Reasons to Visit Mayfair’s Galleries

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For Londoners and visitors alike, Mayfair retains a reputation of opulence, wealth and exclusivity. Take the dozens of art dealerships off Piccadilly, for instance, selling collectors beautiful authentic paintings with seriously steep price tags.

While I certainly wasn’t looking to buy any art when I visited Cork Street for the first time, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would I feel out of place in the swish, upmarket galleries on these quiet Mayfair side streets?

After a recent morning outing to three galleries, however, I needn’t have worried. My visit was a huge success: friendly and unpresuming staff, no entrance fees and a diverse range of people appreciating world-class art.

Antony Gormley’s ‘In Formation’ at White Cube, Mason’s Yard
(Photo: Rachael Davis)

The galleries had a much different atmosphere to that of larger, institutional galleries like the Tate Modern or V&A. Innovative exhibitions, inspiring spaces and the discovery of lesser-known artists were pivotal aspects of the experience.

So whether you’ve been considering a gallery visit that’s a little off the tourist-beaten track, or you’ve previously felt intimidated by the reputation of Cork Street, here are five simple reasons to get down to Mayfair.

#1 They’re free

One major advantage of seeing art in London is that many museums and galleries are completely free. It’s a big part of what makes the cultural scene in this city so great: it’s accessible and open to all who wish to explore it.

You might not expect smaller galleries to be free, such as the chic but ample collections in Mayfair, especially given their premier locations and overhead costs, but wonderfully, they are.

This makes it even easier to pop in at your leisure, pick up a complimentary pamphlet on the current exhibition and artist, and stay for as long or as little as you like.

#2 You don’t need a whole day to visit

A visit to somewhere like the British Museum or National Gallery could comfortably take a whole day. While this is great if you want to immerse yourself in art for an extended time, it can be daunting if you’re busy and don’t have much time to spare.

If you’re in the Mayfair area on the other hand – on a lunch break or visiting nearby attractions – it’s easy to fit in a gallery visit and have a rounded experience in under an hour.

On my recent outing, for instance, I spent around an hour absorbing Alfredo Jaar’s 25 Years Later at the Goodman Gallery: a thought-provoking photography exhibition in commemoration of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. In that time, I watched a 28-minute film installation called We wish to inform you that we didn’t know, based on Clinton’s 1998 speech attempting to justify the US’s apathy for the genocide, while refusing to use the term ‘genocide’ at all.

The Silence of Nduwayezu by Alfredo Jaar
(Photo: Rachael Davis)

In contrast, at the neighbouring Stephen Friedman Gallery, I spent a pleasant 15 minutes with the minimalist work of American artist Ed Baynard. His flat, graphic style is reminiscent of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and the exhibition focused on his still-life work from the 1970s.

I could have spent less time at the Goodman, or more at Stephen Friedman – but if all you’ve got is 30 minutes on your lunch break, you can still have a full exhibition experience in one of these Cork Street galleries.

#3 They feel more personal

Everyone’s always talking about the newest exhibition at London’s big-name galleries. And hey, we’re never one to knock them: the V&A’s Mary Quant show was wonderful, and Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings at Buckingham Palace was a major highlight of 2019. But these displays are often crowded and some times difficult to appreciate when a swarm of people are around.

When you visit a smaller gallery, especially mid-week, you are treated to a more intimate, personal experience with more time to connect with the art.

Wall Number One by Ed Baynard
(Photo: Rachael Davis)

#4 A perfect blend of inclusivity and exclusivity

Everyone’s welcome, but not everyone knows they’re welcome.

Once you leave the bustle of Piccadilly, the streets of Mayfair are peaceful and contemplative. As you step into a gallery it feels like you’ve arrived somewhere special: a carefully-curated exhibition, tucked down an architecturally-stunning street in the most culturally diverse city in the UK. You’re about to witness world-class art that many people don’t know is on display.

To sweeten the experience, friendly and welcoming staff are on hand to help you with any questions you may have, often providing information packs to guide you through the gallery. They invite you to take your time to absorb the art, so when you step back into the world, you know you’ve just witnessed something pretty unique.

#5 The regeneration of Cork Street is promising

Cork Street’s reputation precedes it in some circles: an elitist and traditionalist collection of timeworn exhibitions that isn’t receptive to avant-garde, contemporary projects. But the galleries on and around Cork Street are making a concerted effort to rid themselves of that reputation, and regenerate into a fresh, forward-thinking space that invites radical artists to exhibit.

Burlington Arcade as it reaches Piccadilly
(Photo: Rachael Davis)

This attitude shift can be seen by a physical transformation, too: over the last three years, 60% of the street’s frontage has been redeveloped, increasing gallery space by over 100% to 43,000 sq ft.

The Pollen Estate, as the development is known, seeks to “reignite the spiritual home of modern and contemporary art in London, making it as important in the 21st century as it was in the early 20th when it launched the careers of Francis Bacon, Max Ernst and Paul Klee.”

The fact that galleries are working to shift their out-dated reputation is extremely positive. Mayfair galleries’ new message that art should be accessible and available to all, encouraging fresh ideas and perspectives from international cultures, is one that Londoners will welcome with open arms.

Our city is vast, multicultural and open – all it takes is a trip to Cork Street to see that.

An Art Walk Around Cork Street:

Goodman Gallery, 26 Cork St, W1S 3ND
Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington St, W1S 3AN
White Cube, 25-26 Masons Yard, SW1Y 6BU
Victoria Miro Mayfair, 14 St George St, W1S 1FE
Hauser & Wirth, 23 Savile Row, W1S 2ET