Photo L.A. has been the largest photography art fair on the West Coast for nearly 30 years, but it’s still pulling out some new tricks in response to COVID-19.
This June 27 to 28, Director Claudia James Bartlett is premiering the first-ever Virtual Collect + Connect exhibition. It is a special online-only edition of Photo L.A. to create much-needed space for art in the era of social distancing. Over 70 exhibitors have signed up for virtual booth space, but the fair will feature installations presented by the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among many other organizations and artists. While physical contact will be non-existent, the real purpose of the fair is to build connections. Each day will feature a lineup of live discussions and Q&A sessions on Zoom, and the Whova app has been engaged to help facilitate networking amongst the attendees, collectors, exhibitors and artists.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of dealers and photographers about how [the pandemic] was affecting them,” Bartlett tells “Southland Sessions.” “And I realized that I needed to do something to help because this isn't just a business or an industry — we are a real community. And I believe when we band together, you can get things done, and it's often better for everyone."
Click right and left to see some photographs from exhibitors:
Bartlett was wrapping the 2020 edition of the Barker Hangar-based event in February when the coronavirus story began picking up momentum in American media. As she started laying the groundwork for the 2021 fair, it became clear just how far-reaching this pandemic was going to become and how much of a disruption the world we live in was going to face. Pandemic coverage was always a taken-for-granted feature of every insurance policy she purchased for the fair, but as she started asking around for future coverage, everyone told her they would flat out not be covering losses from COVID-19, or possibly any other pandemic in the future.
By the time California's shelter-in-place orders went into effect in mid-March, it was clear that not only the art industry but the entire world, would be dealing with this for a long time. Bartlett dove in and began planning Virtual Collect + Connect as a way to tackle the steep learning curve of creating successful online exhibitions and get out ahead of what is probably going to become the new normal.
Despite varying levels of technical proficiency among Photo L.A.'s usual roster of exhibitors, almost everyone was unanimously on board to be a part of the programming, recognizing the immense challenges the industry would be facing. In many ways, the inability to produce a physical event broke down barriers for Bartlett. She says, “A lot of galleries that have never participated in Photo L.A. before, from Europe, from Asia, from Mexico, from Canada, have decided to exhibit with us for the first time because it's a virtual experience."
By eliminating the packaging and shipping costs for exhibitors to transport their work to the event, as well as removing the need for attendees to travel and book hotels to attend the fair, it opens doors to opportunities and experiences that have never been possible before, actually expanding the access that we have to art.
“I'm hoping that people are generous,” says Bartlett. “During this time, art really is more important than ever. It does have this transcendent kind of effect to it. There was someone who once famously said, ‘Art makes suffering more tolerable.’ So this is us giving art. This is us putting something positive out there.”
Top Image: Edouard Taufenbach, Jeux d'eau, 2019 | Courtesy of Elizabeth Houston Gallery