The art gallery scene took a hit after the COVID-19 pandemic began, forcing galleries to close their doors in compliance with social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders. Now, gallery directors are having to make a decision to either postpone showcases or virtualize exhibits.
While some feel that a virtual gallery will never compare to an in-person experience, gallery directors at Texas State are optimistic and working to reimagine how art can be shared online.
Shannon Faseler, a curator of the Gallery of the Common Experience and lecturer in the School of Art and Design, says the gallery had to postpone its spring exhibition because of its interactive components. She says gallery staff is working to adapt those interactive elements for fall exhibitions to comply with safety guidelines.
“The [Common Experience] theme is dynamics,” Faseler said. “So there were a lot of things that involved audience participation and interaction that have had to been adjusted or changed, and we’re still working that out.”
Faseler says the first fall exhibition will feature photography. The exhibit will be open to students without an appointment as long as social distancing is maintained. The gallery is currently putting together an online experience that is just as thorough as the in-person gallery.
Luckily, Faseler says artists are “endlessly adaptable and quickly responsive” to the changes that are taking place. She is hopeful and says an art gallery with an online presence in conjunction with an in-person presence is a great benefit to an artist.
“I’m never going to say that a virtual experience can substitute for an in-person experience with artwork,” she said. “[However], you can reach a much wider audience virtually. [Visitors] don’t even have to come into the gallery. They can come online, they can be anywhere in the world and go online and see the artist’s work.”
Chantal Lesley, a communication design and photography senior, has had several of her photos featured in campus galleries like the Gallery of the Common Experience and the Student Juried Exhibition, an annual exhibit that celebrates the distinguished work of Texas State students. She says while she appreciates the effort being featured in online exhibits, she can’t help but wonder if anyone is actually looking at the work.
“I do appreciate the accessibility,” Lesley said. “[From] an artist’s standpoint, you don’t know if it’s working. I don’t know how many people are clicking those links. But I think it’s positive that there is that opportunity to reach a larger audience.”
She says although the traditional in-person experience of an art gallery will be missed, artists are always learning and adapting to new things, so she doesn’t think the transition will be too difficult.
The Gallery of the Common Experience will be open to visitors free of charge with no appointment needed. Guest speaker events usually hosted by the gallery will be held virtually. As of now, the gallery is working on finding safe ways to hold workshops for students who want to participate.
Margo Handwerker, director of the Texas State Galleries, has already gotten the opportunity to experience a virtual gallery with the Student Juried Exhibition.
The exhibit, which is usually installed in late spring, was postponed to the summer II session. When classes for that session were moved online, the gallery was already prepared with a virtual version.
“We took installation photos,” Handwerker said. “We thought ‘we might open for a few days and then get shut down, or we might not open at all, and so we need a virtual alternative to this exhibition.’ Because of all of that planning, when [Texas State] made the call [to move classes online] the Friday before the session was supposed to begin, we were already prepared for that inevitability.”
Handwerker says she is staying optimistic and trying not to paint the circumstances in a negative light.
“It’s mostly disappointing just because you anticipate that something’s going to be a certain way, but just because it’s not that way doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s different,” she said. “Everything will be fine, and I think because we have planned so rigorously for every possible scenario, we won’t be disappointed.”