WHILE live performances are now allowed and art galleries and museums are open to those fully vaccinated as per the National Recovery Plan (NRP), these venues have not yet seen significant attendance.
The government announced on September 7th that art galleries could open with 30% capacity from September 9th, but visitors must make an appointment beforehand.
When the restrictions on movement went into effect, the National Art Gallery (NAG) had taken the opportunity during its closure to begin renovations last November so that it would be fully open to the public again in 2022.
Originally, the NAG was supposed to reopen this November with an emphasis on hybrid visual arts programs, but the May Motion Control Order and changes to the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) resulted in delays.
The renovation work in the NAG amounting to around RM 6 million includes the replacement of the entire roof as well as the renovation of the souvenir shop and the gallery’s café.
Project Management Unit deputy engineer Mohd Razip Abdul Razak said the current aluminum composite panel roofs would be completely converted to asphalt shingles.
“We’re changing the roof because the old roofing causes high maintenance costs every two years.
“The new roof will have a 10 year warranty and less maintenance,” he said, adding that the current blue roof will be changed to gray and black.
Other renovations at NAG include changes to the interior design in the main lobby and a new coat of paint for the outside of the building.
“The Gallery Cafe was in the main lobby. It will be moved to the rear and there will be air conditioning upgrades in all seven galleries, ”said Mohd Razip.
As for the exhibitions, Adinaquraisa Ibrahim, Head of Corporate Communications at NAG, told StarMetro that the plan was to hold the Bakat Muda Sezaman exhibition with contemporary young artists in the gallery this December.
“But when the lockdown came in, we had to change our concept and theme to ‘Seni di Lokasi’ (local art), which is still going on,” she said.
The virtual exhibition and the Seni di Lokasi competition invite the public to see the works of contemporary Malaysian artists under the age of 35 at artist venues across the country.
Local art enthusiasts can vote for their favorites online through selection surveys and on site via the artist’s touchpoints at all locations in Malaysia.
While virtual art exhibitions were not uncommon despite the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a challenge for the NAG curatorial team to cope with them.
“It’s a challenge to curate without being able to feel the exhibits, not just the paintings but the installations as well,” said Adinaquraisa.
“There is a technical aspect to curating because when we publish an artwork, our team needs to observe the area that is appropriate for the artwork,” she explained.
Use of online tools
Suffice it to say that the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions on movement have affected operations in the various art galleries. The Taksu Gallery in Kuala Lumpur is one of them.
“The pandemic has affected the way we work,” Syukur Ali, manager and curator of Taksu Gallery, told StarMetro.
“Art is visual and people like to visit the gallery and enjoy the surroundings and the gallery space.
“Due to the travel restrictions, we had to implement home office, staff rotation and adjust working hours,” he said.
Taksu Gallery, like others, had to develop mitigation plans such as online ads to counter the losses.
“We have switched to online exhibitions to raise awareness and visit by appointment only, to maintain physical distance and limit the number of visitors,” said Syukur.
“We continue to promote works of art and artists online via social media channels and with our customers.
“The interest from both local and international markets is positive.
“The world was about doing and buying everything online.
“And that’s how we recently started our Taksu online shop and our cryptocurrency.”
Syukur said the gallery was only allowed to visit during appointments for fully vaccinated guests to ensure SOP was followed.
“Wearing masks is compulsory.
“All of our employees are fully vaccinated.
“We also registered through MySejahtera to receive a QR code for tracking and tracking.
“Our gallery and warehouse are adequately equipped with adequate air control and ventilation for the storage of artwork,” he added.
Despite the challenges, Syukur said that Taksu continued to encourage, guide, and nurture artists.
“We work with partner galleries to collaborate and open up new markets to promote our local artists.
“We are all affected by the pandemic in some way, and a sense of community with both our customers and our artists is important so that art does not lose its importance in these times.
“In fact, it was interesting to see mostly the art that is emerging now (during the pandemic),” he added.
Reflection of time
While the Covid-19 pandemic generally muzzled the art scene around the world, Wei-Ling Gallery adapted to look at it from a positive perspective and prepare for the challenging times.
Wei-Ling Gallery and Wei-Ling Contemporary founder Lim Wei-Ling said this means motivating their staff and the artists they work with.
Her team of four met once a week for Zoom calls to stay optimistic.
“Each of us has taught one another or taught us something.
“One of our colleagues taught us interesting French art terms, another took us on a tour of her vegetable garden.
“These sharing sessions were important during the pandemic because we actually had the time for them, unlike before the pandemic, when everyone was involved in everyday work.
“It created a certain balance.”
Wei-Ling Contemporary at The Gardens Mall had recently completed an exhibition entitled “Aesthetics of Silence,” borrowed from Susan Sontag’s first essay from her famous oeuvre Styles of Radical Will (1969), in which she examined how silence played a role in Art mediates as a form of spirituality, especially in a globalized world.
Lim pondered the galleries’ journey.
“Art isn’t always fun and bouncy.
“A lot of critically acclaimed artists and their artwork deal with expressions like human suffering, and many come from a dark and disturbed place or show what people have been through.
“Art can be a cathartic form of expression.
“So we had to loosen things up a bit during the lockdown.”
She said the exhibition also looks at the time in which we now live.
“Humanity is going through a challenging time where it is historically relevant to all of us, and for the first time we are all experiencing the same thing.
“Now we think with a lot of loneliness, and ‘Aesthetics of Silence’ has been looking at the work of the artists who speak about that silence,” she added.
Art collectors on a new standard
During the pandemic, when art galleries were closed, art collectors had to make their decisions based solely on digital descriptions and possibly videos recorded by the artists themselves.
Commenting on the new approach, lawyer and collector Brendan Siva said: “E-catalogs have been the new norm for the past two years due to restricted mobility.
“The benefit is in promoting the new works presented by art galleries and making them known to a wider audience as they can be easily passed on to existing collectors and new art lovers.
“That’s how I got to know the local art scene anew.
“I received a couple of e-catalogs during the MCO,” he said.
Even in times of fewer constraints in the past two years, the digital medium had enabled art lovers to see new work by artists, and if they liked something they found a way to educate themselves before making a purchase decision.
“Many of the younger artists and some of the established artists have a strong presence on social media, which helps with online viewing,” said Brendan.
“But at the end of the day it is still very important to see each work of art in person, as the work in its direct form has to speak to or captivate you face to face.
“The digital form is not a complete replacement for the real thing; to see and experience the textures, the interplay of colors and styles and the overwhelming feeling that a work of art gives you, ”he said.
As someone recently immersed in the art world, attorney Vinu Kamalananthan said that the online experience and virtual tours don’t really provide the same experience as physically viewing a work of art.
“With the rise in Covid-19 cases, it was understandable that art galleries should be closed.
“But looking at the art in an e-catalog is not the same.
“For example, when I look at a work of art with thick brown lines in front of me, those lines in the catalog are black.
“In this sense there is a clear difference and you don’t get a feel for the nuances.”
He added, “In terms of buying art that is based only on e-catalogs, I consider it a gamble as we cannot gauge the textures.”