The Korea Herald


COVID-19 is spurring galleries to evolve

By Park Yuna

Published : April 10, 2020 - 10:40

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Virtual tour of ”Serendipity“ exhibition at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art (Savina Museum of Contemporary Art) Virtual tour of ”Serendipity“ exhibition at Savina Museum of Contemporary Art (Savina Museum of Contemporary Art)

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country earlier this year, it was something the art world never expected. It was particularly challenging for art galleries, which believed artworks were best appreciated in person at the gallery.

But the unprecedentedly prolonged viral threat has changed things. Galleries had to come up with creative ways to reach out to people who are practicing social distancing. They held virtual reality exhibitions, online press conferences and private tours.

And the galleries have found that they want to continue using the digital showing methods they would not have experimented with if not for COVID-19.

“We thought that the art world should go on no matter what circumstances we face,” said Kang So-jung, a director at Arario Gallery in Seoul. The gallery is offering a virtual exhibition of “Beyond the Sculpture -- The Unrealized,” which was scheduled to open in February in China but was canceled due to the viral outbreak. The gallery also provided a private tour of the exhibition in March for those who wished to view the artworks chosen for the canceled Art Basel in Hong Kong.

“We acknowledged the need to expand to online platforms before the COVID-19 outbreak, but the pandemic has moved up the timing of the change,” she said.

Barakat Contemporary is showcasing the exhibition “Even here, I exist” by the German artist group Peles Empire until April 26 through virtual tours and also offers private tours, allowing a limited number of visitors to look around the exhibition.

Responses from the viewers were much better than the gallery had expected: The VR tour received more than 1,600 hits.

“Those who joined the private tour gave more concrete feedback about the exhibition, which was very helpful for us,” said Jackie Kim, a PR official from the gallery. 

Regardless of COVID-19, the gallery is preparing more online content to help viewers better understand the next event, a solo exhibition of works by sculptor Chung Seo-young.

Virtual tour of “Even here, I exist“ exhibition at Barakat Contemporary (Barakat Contemporary) Virtual tour of “Even here, I exist“ exhibition at Barakat Contemporary (Barakat Contemporary)

By expanding to online platforms, galleries are expecting more opportunities to reach out to foreign audiences.

Arario Gallery conducted an online press conference for the first time through KakaoTalk in March for the solo exhibition of feminist photographer Park Young-sook. Reporters typed questions live in the chat room while Park appeared in the gallery to answer questions about her exhibition. The exhibition hall was viewed briefly.

“We are seriously thinking about carrying out an online press conference for the upcoming exhibitions because it will be a good way to invite reporters from abroad and introduce talented Korean artists globally,” said Kang of Arario Gallery.

Galleries say it is inevitable that they are pursuing both online and offline strategies in the fast-changing world.

“In the past, we took out advertisements in art magazines to attract visitors and that undoubtedly worked. But it doesn’t anymore,” said a person who works at a gallery in Jongno-gu, Seoul, and wished to remain anonymous.

“Younger people see the artworks on Instagram and visit the gallery later to see the displays in person. And an increasing number of younger people are purchasing artworks as part of their investment plans.”

Because the digital experiment is new to most galleries, they have faced some technical difficulties.

“The COVID-19 outbreak was totally unexpected, so we were not fully prepared for the VR exhibition,” said Yoon Hyun-chul, a public relations official at the Busan Museum of Art, which unveiled “Korean Contemporary Artist Lighting 3: Kim Chong-hak” online during its temporary closure.

“We will have to improve some technical issues for VR exhibitions since some people said they felt dizzy while viewing a VR exhibition,” said Yoon. “Online exhibitions will never replace appreciating artworks in person, but it helps provoke curiosity among younger people. We will continue the service with some improvements regardless of COVID-19,” Yoon said.

Savina Museum of Contemporary Art, which was founded in 1996, launched its “digital museum” in 2013, providing VR tours and electronic art brochures. The gallery is providing most of its past exhibitions online through VR tours. Kang Jae-hyun, chief curator of the museum, advises museums not to be afraid to go digital.

“VR tours are very meaningful in terms of accessibility and forming the identity of our museum,” Kang said. “By unveiling such electronic archives, museums can reveal their identity better to the people, which is important for a museum in the long run.”

By Park Yuna (