Exhibiting online during Covid-19

The move to digital platforms has required a complete overhaul of the way artists connect with their audience - and its benefits are many

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By Aditi Patwari

Published: Mon 24 Aug 2020, 9:00 AM

Last updated: Mon 24 Aug 2020, 11:41 AM

It's been a year of great change. Though most businesses are making their move online in the Covid-19 era, the art world has been slow to follow suit. It is, after all, the experience of physically viewing an artwork and feeling moved by it that makes a collector want to hold on to it.
Yet, we can't escape the situation we currently face - very few people are actually visiting physical locations and galleries. In this scenario, we have to find ways of engaging with audiences online and creating experiences around art that will move them in the same ways. Thus, many physical galleries and exhibitions are adopting a hybrid model where viewers can enjoy art in person or online.
By moving conversations around art online, established and emerging artists can leverage a number of unexpected benefits to propel their careers forward. For instance, exhibiting online exposes an artist to a much larger audience by opening up their reach globally. A physical exhibition in New York is limited to people who are in the vicinity and interested in art; whereas an online exhibition by the same gallery can be enjoyed by art lovers all over the world. Additionally, by opening up the viewership internationally, there is a higher chance for artists to connect with collectors who have a specific taste for their work.
Another benefit is that artists can exhibit their work in multiple parts of the world while sitting in the UAE. I myself have been part of three online exhibitions in China, Italy and the US since June this year, with very little effort. The process of exhibiting online requires almost no hassle compared to the amount of time, energy and financing that physical exhibitions require.
Depending on the gallery/open call you choose, you only need to fill out an online form and upload images of your work and wait for the juror or curator to be in touch with the results. If selected, you just need to sit back, let your work be discovered by international audiences online, and only think about shipments when an artwork is sold.
Further, since the exhibitions are virtual, artists can get more exposure for each artwork by exhibiting them through multiple galleries in different countries. Although many physical exhibitions only accept works that have not been exhibited before, I have not experienced this limitation doing online shows. Likewise, the ease of exhibiting online and not having to create new artworks and concepts for each show is a total win.
Covid-19 has also accelerated the creation of new opportunities and online initiatives to support artists. With the increasing number of virtual experiences, more potential buyers have access to art, and there is less competition amongst artists to exhibit in the same physical galleries. As a result, the art world is becoming more accessible and transparent, where prices, organisers, agents and artists are all available and visible online. The effect of this is a more equal industry, where emerging and established artists are sharing online spaces.
While most industries are being forced to shift from a global to local supply chain, the art industry has never been more internationally connected. It's a great way to discover and build relationships with galleries and organisers in other parts of the world, which can result in physical exhibitions and opportunities in the future.

5 questions to ask before exhibiting online

1. Is the gallery credible?
Many new initiatives and online galleries are emerging as the art industry moves online. It is important to do your research to know whether a gallery is respected and worth getting involved with. Having your work displayed on a website that becomes dormant or fraudulent can also affect your reputation as an artist. So, research the gallery before getting involved: do they have a well-functioning website, legitimate social media pages with real engagement? Have they held other online exhibitions and was it up to your standard?
2. Are you in the right company?
It is also important to know who you are exhibiting next to. You want to be associated with artists who are as serious about their work as you and, of course, those with talent. Research the artists who have previously exhibited with the gallery - their websites and social media pages will usually be linked on the exhibition page.
3. Who's the gallery's audience?
Art is incredibly subjective. The gallery you are exhibiting with or the theme of the exhibition can appeal to different audiences. Check what the gallery's/exhibition's vision is - does it match yours? For instance, are they supporting a cause that resonates with your work? Then you are more likely speaking to the same type of audience.
4. What support are they providing?
Is the exhibition only going to be displayed on the gallery's website, or will there be social media features? Is the exhibition only for the promotion of your work or does the gallery intend to sell it too? Will they charge a commission? These questions should be clearly answered in the open call. If they are not, ask for clarification from the organiser before applying.
5. Is the exhibition worth the fee?
Many online galleries offer free exhibitions at first to build their audience and receive more interest from artists. Once they gain traction, they quickly monetise their offering in different ways. Online galleries can charge a small fee for each art entry or hold a free open call and charge artists a fee upon selection. Either way, think about where you are in your career and your return on that investment. Do you want to start testing the online space by doing free exhibitions? Or do you trust a particular gallery to be a great addition to your CV or bring you actual sales?
(Aditi is a textile artist and founder of Dea.)

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