Publisher's Letter, Summer 2020: Subject to Change
By GINNY VAN ALYEA
Chicago Gallery News was founded in 1982/1983 as a means of promoting openings in the then-brand-new gallery district of River North. From a group of 16, the number and locations of galleries exploded over the years. Friday night openings were the place to be.
That tradition continued until COVID-19 obliterated the familiar art rituals and gatherings we took for granted – art fairs, summer markets, gallery walks, artist talks, preview parties, end of year MFA shows – the cultural connectivity that powers the art scene has been put on hold.
Now all plans are subject to change. Physical proximity to art – not to mention other people – is harder to achieve, at least if it requires private admission or means being in a crowd. Digital ingenuity has constructed some virtual bridges for the time being, but the significance of in-person encounters, dialogues and exchanges cannot be replaced, or held off forever. Adrift in the digital deluge, I’m in search of higher ground.
I remember the economic rout of the 2008 crisis, one year after I bought CGN, but these headwinds are stronger. CGN is proud to be a resource to the arts community and its supporters during this time. We committed to printing this summer issue, despite great challenges, because I wanted to offer a life boat in order to ride out the storm. The magazine has always been a tangible testament to all the art alive here. Now many of our dealers and artists are trying so hard to adapt and survive.
It helps me to look back as well as ahead. CGN has digitally evolved over the decades, but we were founded in and continue in print. While we can reflect fondly on the early ‘80s we don’t need to go all the way back there (I predate CGN’s founding by a couple of years, so at that time I was excited to get my first bike). Time and people move ahead, in spite of market crashes, fires, wars, recessions, and yes pandemics. We cannot be static. Artists still make art. Dealers, curators and collectors will still connect. The creativity that endures must be recognized and supported.
With two months of lockdown behind me, so far, I’m looking ahead to what today will look like decades from now, when face masks and Zoom screenshots from 2020 will look as dated as that picture of Steve Jobs holding the first Macintosh computer does today. Photos of my family’s quarantine will show us with long hair wearing weird white earbuds. We cannot avoid looking dated.
As we scramble to be digitally current and connected while we are physically apart, I am also learning, from artists like Ebony G. Peterson, whom Alison Reilly interviewed for this issue, the benefits of just being and tuning out the world. It makes me hopeful that the pendulum will swing towards a more deliberate, in-person, albeit less crowded, landscape when this is “over.”
We are learning so much about virtual possibilities in life and business, but maybe local galleries could be regarded as precious gathering places to connect in person and view art. We have had more than enough time on our screens. Maybe fairs will be less market-obsessed, devoted to gallery survival over notoriety. Small businesses will be treasured over the mega and the convenient. The shifts that began long before COVID-19 – to art fair dominance, email overload and social media bingeing – could be a memory.
Of course all of this depends on the art market actually surviving the category 5 financial hurricane we are in. Already since we went to press on this issue (May 4) EXPO Chicago has announced they are moving the 9th edition of the fair from September to April 2021. One new gallery owner we spotlighted in print has decided she must close her doors for good. There are others who will follow. Our partner galleries and businesses, like so many out there, need your support. Artists depend on your engagement. Please do what you are able in order to hold on to your interest in art and keep investing in creativity financially as well as emotionally. Stay with us so that we can look back someday and remember the experience but be grateful for the hope, the innovation, and the change.