CoronART Chronicles: From ARCO To ConfineART – Virginie Puertolas-Syn

Eva Jospin cardboard forest at Among the Trees exhibition

Who would have thought early February when Art Basel Hong Kong was cancelled that the coronavirus crisis was going to spread like lighting to everywhere else on the planet, that the world would shut down, that we all will be confined in our homes, with new words recurring in our lives such as coronavirus, CoronART, lockdown, confinement, ICU, flatten the curve? 2020 is indeed a very strange year.

Reflecting on the past few weeks, it all seems so unreal

At the end of February, I was still a “Happy Collector” visiting Arco in Madrid with Spirit Now, the exclusive collectors’ club under the helm of Marie-Laure de Clairemont-Tonnerre. Those days in Madrid were joyful and light-hearted, filled with art discoveries, private visits, parties and obviously the art fair itself. It was a true privilege to visit the home and view the collection of Ella Fontanals Cisneros. The Cuban born collector and philanthropist have one of the most impressive collections with over 3,500 artworks. Her beautiful flat in Madrid had works by Donald Judd, Jesus Rafael Soto, Hiroshi Sugimoto… amongst others. I really liked the work of conceptual Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander: Deadline Calendar (2002). The artist compiled 12 months’ worth of expiry dates – small reminders snipped from food packaging – and ordered them on adhesive sheets to create a year-long calendar. It is hard to believe that the IFEMA, the conference centre where the art fair takes place has been converted since the coronavirus outbreak into a hospital…

The Hammer Galleries had a small landscape piece by Vincent Van Gogh dating from his stay in Paris in 1886
The Hammer Galleries had a small landscape piece by Vincent Van Gogh dating from his stay in Paris in 1886

As the epidemy was progressing in Europe with the lockdown in Italy, there were some doubts as to whether TEFAF would take place or not. Following the advice of the health authorities, Maastricht opened as planned and I decided to attend the VIP days. I was not sure what to expect and was surprised to feel like it was “business as usual”. Many American and Asian collectors did not come, but there was a good contingent of Europeans. As always, I was enchanted by TEFAF: a true journey through Art History. The Hammer Galleries had a small landscape piece by Vincent Van Gogh dating from his stay in Paris in 1886 when he discovered the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Talabardon & Gautier from Paris had an exceptional piece from Pierre Puvis de Chavannes depicting the New Testament. David Levy showed a rare black and white Victor Vasarely painting: Horn A from 1965. Susan Stockwell at Patrick Heide Gallery had an impressive paper dress made of international currency notes, Money Dress (160 x 80 x 60 cm, 2010), where the artist maps the female body, colonial and social histories. Another piece from the same series, Territory Dress, has been acquired by Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam.

Kamel Mennour booth - TEFAF 2020

Kamel Mennour’s booth at TEFAF 2020 was my favourite, with lyrical Ugo Rodinone tree installation – CoronART

Ugo Rondinone, tree again, cold moon, 2011, in London at Hayward Gallery as part of the very poetic “Among the Trees “exhibition curated by Ralph Rugoff. It was my last physical Art outing. The show surveyed how artists respond to the role trees play in our lives and imagination: Guiseppe Penone’s 12 meters Tree, the cinematic portrait of a 30-metre-high spruce tree by Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and the incredible in-situ cardboard forest installation by Eva Jospin.

From mid-March, the world started to shut down … a ghastly experience, a bad science fiction movie … all museums, galleries and art outlets started to close one after the other. The whole art experience changed and had to be comprehended through the spectrum of the screen.

“From Home” online opening and exhibition of Joel Andrianomearisoa at Sabrina Amrani Gallery
CoronART – “From Home” online opening and exhibition of Joel Andrianomearisoa at Sabrina Amrani Gallery

Early in the lockdown, Sabrina Amrani Gallery from Madrid presented the work of Joel Andrianomearisoa “From Home”. Joel was the first artist to represent Madagascar at the Venice Biennale in 2019. From his Paris home where he is in confinement, the Malagasy artist produced within ten days a new body of work as a diary of the credible time we are going through. I attended my first gallery, opening …online. I was not sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. Within one and half hours, the artist talked about his new works, a mostly limited edition and engaged in a conversation with the 50 collectors who were all online. Joel’s response to confinement has been creativity, making art with objects that surrounds him, sharing his emotions and part of his intimacy. I was drawn to his collage, his uses of words and for the first time in my life … maybe not the last, I acquired an artwork online without seeing it in real-life beforehand. I realised how quickly we adapt and how surprisingly what would have seemed foreign a few weeks before, became part of our daily routine.

A few days later, I had my first online lecturing session. I have been lecturing at Sotheby’s Institute for years in their classrooms, engaging with the students and then now I was suddenly alone, facing a screen. I was apprehensive about the whole experience but again pleasantly surprised. The students and I had a lively discussion and even if nothing ever replaces an authentic human interaction, I will repeat the experience if need be.

So my journey into confinArt or CoronART has started … to be continued…

CoronART Words/Photos: Virginie Puertolas-Syn © Artlyst 2020

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