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USF Contemporary Art Museum debuts first virtual exhibit: ‘Art in the Age of the Coronavirus’

It’s the first major virtual exhibition for the museum, which remains closed.

As the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum’s curator-at-large Christian Viveros-Fauné said, artists are good at the quarantine bit.

So it’s not surprising that he was able to assemble a robust roster of acclaimed artists to participate in the virtual exhibition “Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of the Coronavirus,” opening on June 6.

The virtual exhibition brings together artworks from before the pandemic with works in direct response to it. It includes work by Kiki Smith, Patricia Cronin, Newsha Tavakolian, Cristina Lucas and Basil Kincaid.

Cristina Lucas, La Anarquista (The Anarchist), from the series The Old Order, 2004. [ Courtesy of USF CAM ]

It’s the first time the museum has launched such a major exhibition virtually.

Noel Smith, the museum’s deputy director, said that when the museum closed in March, they had to immediately pivot and radically change their exhibition schedule, postponing some shows until next year.

“The question was, how do we fulfill our mission while the museum is closed?” she said.

Smith credits new media curator and community and technology director Don Fuller and his team for making it possible to create a virtual exhibition.

Viveros-Fauné said the museum team chose to react to the coronavirus pandemic because they wanted to do something that would feel powerful in scale even if it’s on a screen.

"As the world changes art has to change with it,” he said. “The thing about art and culture is that it provide rallying cries and symbols, and that’s what people need. And visions of hope.”

It came together remarkably quickly, considering planning couldn’t start until April. Viveros-Fauné fired off emails to his artist contacts and received an enthusiastic response.

“Folks wanted to get on board because people actually want real discussions, and they also want to be able to share culture.”

The evolving exhibition will add more artists responding to the way the world is changing during its six-month run. The national protests sparked by the death of George Floyd are sure to be represented.

Narsiso Martinez, Good Farms, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo by Joshua Schaedel, Michael Underwood. [ Courtesy of USF CAM ]

“I don’t know that we could have foreseen more fuel being added to the fire to the coronavirus pandemic," Viveros-Fauné said. “Great instability brings change and hopefully some of that change will be positive."

About half of the exhibition contains works made before the coronavirus pandemic. Viveros-Fauné said that art that is resonant and powerful can take on new meaning and context when it’s looked at years later.

In addition to finished artworks, artists will contribute interviews, personal reflections, observations, texts, social media posts and playlists. The exhibition will provide a global view of the way people are dealing with a strange and uncomfortable time in life.

Viveros-Fauné said the goal of the exhibition is to get a conversation going, even in a virtual setting.

“If we can do that, we’ve done our job.”

An opening reception over Zoom happens on Saturday from 1-3 p.m. It will feature an artist-curator talk, with artists Basil Kincaid, Cristina Lucas, Narsiso Martinez and Spencer Tunick, a virtual walk-through of the exhibition and a public Q and A.

Additional artist talks and events will be announced along the run of the exhibition.

IF YOU GO

“Life During Wartime: Art in the Age of the Coronavirus” is online at lifeduringwartimeexhibition.org. The website opens at 10 a.m. June 6. A Zoom link to attend the opening reception goes live on the website at 12:45 p.m. The exhibition remains online through Dec. 12.

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