New York held a ticker tape parade in honor of health care workers on July 7. Galleries are opening up in New York, Massachusetts, Paris, and more. The fireworks were phenomenal and well attended by joyous Americans eager to celebrate their liberation from pandemic restrictions, showing their smiles, hugging their friends, families and strangers. Amid all this back to normalcy, Artscope Magazine reviewed a photograph so representative of all that is happening that it made me believe we had emerged into a new and better world. Puerto-Rican Street photographer Ruben Natal San Miguel, in his first solo show, “American Beauty” opened July 4 at Gary Marotta Fine Art in Provincetown, showing a woman in the South Bronx, New York City, one of the country’s areas hardest hit by the Covid 19 pandemic. Dressed in patriotic red, white and blue, in ripped cutoffs, she embraces her young son, and stares determinedly at all of us, once more able to hug her child, unmasked. I imagined her a health care worker who had refused parental contact until she washed off the coronavirus germs she had encountered from her patients. I saw her happily unmasked, tenderly holding her young son, finally emerged from the loneliness of the pandemic. I saw her supporting her child while celebrating, reflected in the colors she wore, her role supporting the country’s efforts to beat the pandemic, all recorded by the Puerto-Rican photographer who had undoubtedly experienced his own trauma during the pandemic.
Art is powerful. Photography may be documentary but it also inspires stories, as it did for me. The art world’s reaction to opening up after the Pandemic has added to the story of isolation during that time, and it is as optimistic as the woman in Ruben Natal San-Miguel’s dye sublimation on aluminum print. Whereas people bought art online to enhance spaces they stared at over many months, they are now buying in person with appointments at galleries to change those walls they have become bored with. Although gallery directors and staff delivered work for consideration and enabled online viewing, higher end buyers want to see the physical art piece before buying and missed the gallery experience.
Art is a barometer of people’s psyches. Bright colors in San Miguel’s prints and throughout the post-pandemic art market abound as we drop our sweatpants to replace them with miniskirts and flowered sundresses, heading for the beach and sun swept vistas. Such is the art of Julien Nguyen in his first solo show opening in September at Matthew Marks Gallery. This Los Angeles based artist painted his friends and lovers, but also images of John the Baptist, the Temptation of Christ and the Virgin Mary against a backdrop of the sea in California. Including in the exhibition a soundtrack and digital clips such as a “ticktocker” sans shirt seems to notify us of a new awakening. As a long-ago song says, “Make new friends, but keep the old, some are silver but the others gold.”
Portraits abound in new shows, with Sam Jackson’s many portraits marred with messages, so joining word which we have so relied on in the past months and maskless image to instill empathy, at Charlie Smith, London. Continuing the portrait trend is Virgil Abloh’s “Church & State” at Boston’s ICA, where photographed teens responded to how they break the rules by styling their own looks, showing how new rules are emerging post-pandemic and the demonstrations and events of the past year which included and were orchestrated by young people seeking to change the world for the better. Showing a full figure, one of the most interesting exhibits is a video installation at Boston’s ICA Watershed, where Firelei Baez’s “To Breathe Full and Free: A Declaration, Revisioning, A Correction” features a woman dressed in red emerging from a cave, with arches cut and leaning, walls adorned with indigenous symbols and blue curtained sky above her, as if announcing our and her emergence from what was.
Art drives the economy. Recent New York City grants to artists and galleries, added to stimulus payments already received are reviving individual career and gallery exhibitions and sales, encouraging galleries to take on new artists. Grants for public art are also continuing the WPA tradition of recognizing the importance of art in public spaces. Although gallery experience disappeared during the height of the Pandemic due to restrictions, innovations including online viewing and gallery directors’ and staff’s willingness to deliver work for consideration kept artists and galleries afloat. These innovations will stay for the long-term enabling a large international audience as the art market becomes more focused on viewing, buying and owning art than socializing at art openings. This self-imposed exclusivity will be good for the art market as people look to acquire art, not dates. So back to normal? No, in this writer’s opinion, better than normal.