COVID-19 and Commercial Galleries

Amidst serious concerns for the health of Australia's gallery sector during extended lockdowns, Artist Profile invited Melbourne gallerist Andy Dinan to share her experiences. Dinan asks: what role does a bricks and mortar commercial gallery have today, in September 2021, in a world pandemic ?

In space, they say, no-one can hear you scream – which is just as well because a lot of us feel like doing just that – or just rolling up in a foetal ball. The feeling is captured in David Bowie’s iconic song Space Oddity:

“For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there’s nothing I can do…”

Indeed, during this pandemic many of us are sitting in our tin cans and there’s nothing we can do. And it’s lonely in space. Just watch the 2013 science fiction epic Gravity starring Sandra Bullock as a stranded astronaut trying desperately to return to Earth.

All of which seemed pertinent the whole time we were hanging Tony Lloyd’s stunning show of paintings Overview. That and the elephant in the room – why even have a commercial gallery in a pandemic?

Overview is show that took Lloyd over two years to paint and I could hardly look him in the eye as the hanging day came to an end. His paintings of astronauts thrusting themselves through time and space and strange, alien mountains reminding me that we are also wearing protective breathing gear like the astronauts and hurling ourselves not knowing where we will all end in time and space.

You see hanging days are my favourite gallery days – the smell of possibility, of seeing the art out of the studio after following it for months in preparation for this moment of hanging a show on my beautiful five-metre walls, the most expensive light system in the world making every mark visible.

But this week on hanging day I could not look the artist in the eye, mainly because I was worried I would cry.

But MARS was specifically and architecturally designed to be an essentially 24-hour space with large windows on the street. Potential viewers (and collectors) can see the show at 3.00am in their pyjamas with a belly full of vodka martinis after watching Gravity if they so choose. Or they can sit in their cars smoking a joint and listening to Space Oddity as they watch Lloyd’s intrepid travellers explore alien worlds.

Of course, most galleries do not have that luxury of viewers-at-a-distance and my heart goes out to them. Our lock down is again extended, and morale is at an all-time low. How many art fairs, pop ups and exhibitions could and will be cancelled? And yet the art just keeps coming every day, bringing me calls and letters from artists begging for a show.

So the gallery phone rings a lot, but now, as well as artists and customers, it is other commercial gallerists from around the country asking me how I am going? How is MARS Gallery fairing? Do I think we will be at an art fair ever? Suddenly, in an industry known for its fierce competitiveness and cruelty, I find myself giving solace to other gallerists I thought never particularly liked my gallery, me or my artists. It seems we needed a world pandemic to bring us together.

So that brings me to exactly why you need your local commercial gallery in a world pandemic, even one you cannot get into but can only stand at the window of – art lifts our souls, and  now more than ever we need lifting – we need the artists, writers, singers and the entertainers to give us hope that one day soon we won’t be looking at art on-line or through glass after a hearty five km hike.

Our window has been a god-send. Two days after install we nearly sold out of Tony Lloyd’s paintings. You do not want to scream when confronted with Lloyd’s work. You want to be reminded of the sheer creativity and optimism that inspired man’s first trip to the moon. It seems a commercial gallery, even in a pandemic and one that you cannot get into has never been more needed.

2 September – 3 October 2021
MARS Gallery, Melbourne

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