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Brief Published: 16 Oct 2020

New Art Exhibitions Explore Living through Lockdown

Cao Fei's Isle of Instability

Artists worldwide have been showcasing their creative responses to Covid-19 online (see The Brief). Now, with some restrictions easing and venues reopening, fresh opportunities are arising to connect with culture-hungry consumers. We highlight some emerging exhibition trends as artists and gallerists bring lockdown-era art into the open.

  • Processing the Pandemic Experience: Keen to reflect their audiences’ experiences of lockdown, galleries and brands are partnering with artists to create pandemic-focused art. English conceptual artist Gillian Wearing is showcasing intimate Lockdown Portraits – centred on the symbolism of the mask – at London’s Maureen Paley gallery this month. 
    In November, Chinese artist Cao Fei will premiere a new film at West Bund Art & Design fair in Shanghai, reflecting on the time she spent stranded in Singapore due to Covid travel bans. Commissioned by Swiss watch brand Audemars Piguet, it explores the psychological and physical implications of social isolation on Fei and her family.
  • Spotlighting Communities’ Creative Outlets: UK galleries are updating their programmes to celebrate the recent upswell of community activism and resourceful creativity. After prime minister Boris Johnson wrote to every UK household in March, urging them to respect the coronavirus restrictions, British fashion maverick Jonny Banger invited school children to decorate the letters. More than 200 will go on show at The Foundling Museum, London on October 24. 
    Three weeks later, the Southbank Centre will display works by prisoners who turned to art during lockdown, when many were under 23-hour solitary confinement. Titled No Lockdown in the Imagination, the mixed-media works are exhibited behind glass on the riverside terrace and recreated on window vinyls; a purely external display, subverting the circumstances of their creation.
  • Take it Outside: Londoners can observe a two-minute art show on the advertising billboards at Piccadilly Circus. Circa begins – fittingly – at 20:20pm each night, when the usual commercials pause to screen a series of specially commissioned films addressing the events of 2020. A different artist features each month. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is the first to participate, airing excerpts from his hour-long autobiographical film throughout October. 

    The project echoes New York-based artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ recent takeover of the billboards in Times Square. While governments encourage outdoor activities, expect artists and consumers alike to seek culture on the streets.