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Feature: City of Cars embraces art in age of coronavirus

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Artists brought a breath of fresh air to Los Angeles in back-to-back weekends that ended on Sunday, with an unusual, coronavirus-inspired art exhibition entitled, Drive-by-Art, or Public Art in This Moment of Social Distancing.

REFUSE ISOLATION

Just as novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has impacted every aspect of the world‘s society and industries, so it has impacted art, by generating what is believed to be the first outdoor art exhibition that one can view from the safety of one’s car.

“It is a message for our times, art seen through the lens of COVID-19,” Warren Neidich, artist and founder/co-organizer of the Drive-by-Art event told Xinhua. Neidich‘s work has shown at the Whitney Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Louvre and elsewhere. He is also a professor at Weissensee Academy of Art, Berlin, Germany.

“People don’t realize, artists are the voice of the world, and by being unable to share our art, the virus was suffocating our voices just as it suffocated our lungs,” he noted, adding the virus forced the world to embrace a different way of viewing art and of sharing art, now that museums and galleries, the normal venues for displaying art, have been shuttered, roaring into the void with its pedal to the metal is art seen from the safety of one’s car.

“It seemed like an exciting premise: stay in your car, protect yourself, yet be able to access unique experiences presented by artists,” said the organizer, Neidich.

“Like everyone else, it was very difficult for me and other artists to be so isolated during the outbreak. It was depressing for so many of us,” Neidich revealed to Xinhua. “It felt like the whole art community kind of funneled their consciousness and need for expression and solidary into me … I felt I had to do something.”

HELP EACH OTHER

After launching a smaller version of the concept on the east coast in Long Island, New York, Neidich decided to bring the concept to Los Angeles and enrolled the help of three prominent co-organizers: writer, curator and educator, Anuradha Vikram; artist and professor Rene Petropoulos; and Michael Slenske, a writer, curator and contributing editor to publications like the LA Times’s DesignLA, Galerie, Art + Auction, Los Angeles Magazine and others.

Anuradha Vikram, former Artistic Director of the 18th Art Center and visiting Lecturer at LA’s Otis College of Art and Design told Xinhua, “We saw a lot of need… artists were having their shows cancelled and were feeling really cut off from the things that keep them alive – their work and each other. We needed to do something to help.”

“This was a very DIY type of project. We felt it like it was a good opportunity to do something fun. And the artists really responded,” Vikram said.

Of the 125 artists featured in the exhibition, some are more well-known and others haven’t had many opportunities to express their voice, Renee Petropoulos, Professor at Otis College of Art and Design in the Graduate Fine Arts, Graduate Public Practice and Graduate Graphic Design departments told Xinhua.

“The most famous artists had too much fear to leave their institutional exhibitors, so we went with some established and many new artists and gave them the opportunity to share their voices,” Neidich explained.

For Petropoulos, creating an online community and archive of local artists morphed into something greater.

“It was important to acknowledge the artists and collect more documentation on them to build a real archive of artists for the Los Angeles art community. That became an interesting part of the process itself,” she said. Vikram also praised the website team for putting together the compelling Drive-by-Art website virtually overnight.

DIVERSIFIED THEMES

The exhibition itself became a metaphor for the coronavirus era, with cars acting as “safety bubbles” that enabled mandatory social distancing and interaction with art without the fear of infection.

“I was amazed how different the city itself looks during COVID. Combining the city, the art, and the impact of COVID was a fascinating perspective to explore,” Petropoulos told Xinhua. “We felt excited by it. Viewing art this way opens people up, yet they’re still in a protected environment.”

“This idea is right for the time. It’s not only good for the artists, it’s good for the people who want to see art,” Neidich said “It‘s only when people had time to reflect and think deeper, when they weren’t rushing from place to place that an idea like this could rise up above the din of our ‘mediated’ experience.”

“For me, the exhibition is my art, part of my own artistic expression,” he asserted, adding that diversity was also a priority for an art show.

“We have an incredibly diverse artist scene in LA, so it was inevitable that we were going to have a diverse group of artists,” Vikram told Xinhua. There was a tremendous age diversity in the exhibition too – multi-generations of artists who had been taught by other artists in the exhibition.

Vikram felt it could leave a more lasting mark. “This probably is one of the ways we are going to be looking at art from now on,” she predicted.

Their hope is that it may also lead to a greater appreciation for the arts and artists in Los Angels.

“Our artist community is so special here in LA,” Vikram told Xinhua. “But as our city gets more expensive and space gets more contested, our artists are at risk. Many artists situations are a lot more precarious than people realize. We need to support them,” she contended.

For the organizers, an important goal of this project was just trying to feel ok, trying to reconnect with humanity. “People really need this and it’s making them feel better. That’s the real achievement here. I got involved because I was depressed,” Vikram told Xinhua. “And I feel better now.”

(XINHUA)

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