A dark cloud has loomed over New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and the rainfall and sporadic gusts of wind have made the environment cold, damp, and eerie. There’s hardly anyone in sight, save for two police officers at the corner of 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, a man clutching his parka shakily while walking his dog, and an eager delivery man pedaling feverishly on his bicycle. All are wearing face masks; all are trying their best to deal with the circumstances.
It’s a grim scene that concisely depicts the state of the contemporary art industry, which takes up a lot of square footage in Chelsea. Here, some of the biggest galleries in the world have shut their doors, following federal and local mandates to padlock nonessential businesses and social distance as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. The large, clear windows that let viewers peer into their expansive spaces—normally lined with vibrant wall paintings or imposing installations, wooing passersby—are now boarded or covered by metal gates. And there are signs outside the entrances that express how they are, for the foreseeable future, closed, emphasizing their compliance with guidelines so as to flatten the curve of the spread.
New York—with more than 300,000 cases and more than 19,000 confirmed deaths—is the hardest-hit state in the nation. And this is not counting the staggering unemployment rates, dwindling supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), and overall financial and mental stability of citizens. Many galleries and art organizations that are based in the city and beyond had to quickly evaluate how best to navigate this trying time, figuring out a right course of action that will benefit both their firms and the artists they represent. Because however much art is an expression of creativity, an imaginative view of reality through an individual standpoint, it is unequivocally a business that has seriously been affected by COVID-19.
How do you feel about creating art during the coronavirus outbreak?
While it’s tempting and understandable to see art as belonging in an ivory tower, it is also a source of livelihood for a lot of people, myself included. I am just trying to keep on working and absorbing everything I read and hear right now. I am preparing for a show at PPOW, and it’s funny how work conceived before coronavirus looks influenced by it or in reaction to it.
Before the pandemic, I had been looking at horror movie stills—people trapped or escaping domestic interiors—and now they read like cabin fever. So the context surrounding the paintings has shifted and changed how I think people will read them. And as I continue to work on them, I can't help but be informed by the current mood of collective anxiety.
Has your process changed since the outbreak?
I have the good fortune of having a live-slash-work space in Queens, NYC. I already spent most of my time in isolation painting, so not much has changed on that front! I have been trying to focus on my work while staying abreast of the news, which takes an emotional toll, toggling between perspectives. All we can do is take it a day at a time.