The National Gallery of Australia has transported the country’s visual art collection into the homes of thousands of people who have been left feeling isolated and disconnected during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown with an exciting new digital focus.
National Gallery of Australia program manager Sally Brand said the Canberra Day long weekend, in early March, was the busiest on the gallery’s calendar, with more than 14,000 people flocking to events it hosted, including the homecoming of Patricia Piccinini’s monumental hot air balloon sculpture, Skywhale, and the Club Muva street party with the Filipino community.
Two weeks later, Australia was in a COVID-19-induced lockdown.
“The gallery was closed and we were all working from home, but it didn’t mean we were any less busy,” said Ms Brand.
“It took the COVID-19 shutdown to kick-start our digital expansion and make us really think about our national reach and how to connect all Australians with their collection.”
In developing its new digital focus, Ms Brand said the gallery commissioned artists to create activities for families and children to engage with the national collection at home, and its Art from Home program was established.
“We also did a project called Art by Description, which is audio recordings for people who are blind or vision- impaired,” she said.
“One of the first ones we did was Yayoi Kusama’s installation, Spirits of the Pumpkins Descended into the Heavens, which is one of the gallery’s most popular works of art.”
The COVID-19 lockdown also resulted in the gallery’s Thursday Art Talks program being launched in a digital format.
The next Thursday Art Talks event, on 10 September, presents the work of women-identifying artists on the subjects of sex, pleasure and desire from inside the gallery’s The Body Electric exhibition.
“[Within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic] we have been looking at a lot of content around connection,” said Ms Brand.
The livestream from inside The Body Electric – which will include conversations with the exhibition’s curators, Shaune Lakin and Anne O’Hehir, and video footage of the works of art – will run for approximately 45 minutes. Audience members can ask real-time questions directly via Facebook.
“We’re really excited about the digital potential to reach right across the country,” said Ms Brand. “The feedback has been extremely positive, especially because people can ask questions live.”
The gallery’s previous Thursday Art Talks livestream attracted a Facebook audience from far and wide, including from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Noosa, Mildura, Chewton, in regional Victoria, and even overseas in Hawaii.
The Body Electric exhibition runs until 26 January, 2021, and is part of the global Know My Name campaign.
As part of the campaign, the National Gallery of Australia has made a commitment to increase the representation of artists who identify as women, and enhance understanding of the contributions they have made and continue to make to Australia’s cultural life – to see their art, hear their stories and know their names.
The National Gallery of Australia’s next Thursday Art Talks event, The Body Electric, will be livestreamed on 10 September from 12.45 pm to 1.30 pm on its Facebook page.
The Body Electric exhibition includes works with adult content and it is not suitable for children. All Thursday Art Talks are recorded and available to listen to online. For more information, visit National Gallery of Australia.