Aspen art galleries adapt to survive and serve virtual audiences during pandemic
ASPEN ART GALLERIES ONLINE
212 Gallery is online HERE
Ann Korologos Gallery’s exhibition “Art of the New West” is online HERE
Aspen Art Gallery is offering virtual tours. Make appointments HERE
Aspen Grove Fine Art’s collection is online HERE
Baldwin Gallery is taking appointments by phone and email: 970-920-9797HERE.
Galerie Maximillian’s “Color + Abstraction” at the IFPDA online viewing room is HERE
Harvey Preston Gallery’s Eva Kwong and Kirk Mangus show is online HEREThe Opera Gallery’s online viewing room has opened the exhibition “American Icons,” featuring work by Tom Wesselmann, George Condo and Keith Haring, running through May 19 HERE
Valley Fine Art’s collection is online HERE
While art gallery doors have been closed since mid-March due to public health restrictions during the novel coronavirus pandemic, the commercial art scene in Aspen has moved online with web-based viewing rooms, virtual browsing and one-on-one artist-collector sessions.
Nothing can replicate the in-person experience of seeing professionally installed art in a gallery space, but e-commerce and virtual shows have long been hailed as the future for art sales. COVID-19 has brought that future to Aspen ahead of schedule.
“It was a scary thing at first, but it has been quite successful,” said Elliott Yeary Gallery manager Marie Herr. “It’s been a great learning experience. And this is going to be the way of the future.”
While the economic pain of the shutdown is substantial for galleries, as it is for all small businesses, the stay-home period has provided an unexpected opportunity for galleries to go virtual. Many local gallerists noted that sharing art online can be more than a vehicle for sales. It also serves as a free cultural resource and an escape from the stress of the pandemic for viewers.
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Virtual art experiences can be an outlet for the stir-crazy who come to browse, while these ongoing gallery operations also provide sales for galleries and artists unable to physically exhibit their work to the public. And the shutdown gave galleries a captive audience of people stuck at home and motivated to buy new visuals for the spaces they’ve been confined in, some gallerists said, many seeking comfort or color in new artwork for their home.
“People are all at home looking at blank walls,” said Galerie Maximillian art consultant Liz Iacullo. “And art has a healing effect.”
As the strict shelter-at-home public health orders give way to the slightly looser “Safer at Home” protocols, many of the two-dozen galleries in downtown Aspen will begin to open their doors to the mask-wearing public as soon as this weekend. Some have been seeing clients in person by appointment throughout the shutdown.
Galleries, many noted, are well-suited to operate under rules like the 6-foot social distancing advisory and limits of gatherings to 10 people, as they keep small staffs in their showrooms, rarely draw large crowds without events and, of course, customers don’t normally touch the artwork.
“Galleries are like the golf of the retail business,” said Aspen Grove Fine Art marketing manger Christine Moore. “We are socially distanced by nature and nobody touches anything.”
Still, the resort’s galleries pay the sky-high Aspen rents for Aspen foot traffic. Just a handful of high-profile galleries here have the standing as international art dealers and art world players to keep substantial sales going without a brick-and-mortar gallery open, and even those are still subject to the ongoing global economic crisis set off by coronavirus. Just as take-out won’t sustain Aspen’s restuarants in the long run, virtual gallery experience can’t keep physical galleries in business.
Many Aspen galleries are dependent on walk-up sales and are eager for a timeline to reopen local shops.
“The majority of our business is walk-in traffic and that is vital to us,” said Moore of Aspen Grove.
The 2,000-square-foot gallery, a fixture on the Cooper Avenue pedestrian mall for 35 years, has weathered many ups and downs in Aspen but never a situation where they weren’t allowed to open for an extended period of time. It canceled a late March exhibition by Bernie Taupin, the famed Elton John lyricist and painter.
The gallery has its collection on its website and its online initiatives have included a campaign for a new graphic series by painter Carrie Fell, more affordable than the contemporary Western paintings on canvas she normally sells in the gallery. Aspen Grove has taken a subtle approach to online sales, while hoping for some pedestrian traffic to return downtown this summer.
“I’m hoping for our community leaders to set up a solid strategy to reopen, and quickly, because summer is coming,” said Aspen Grove owner Mike Olson.
Galerie Maximillian launched an online viewing room to host the new exhibition “Color + Abstraction” featuring works by 10 modern and contemporary art giants —Damien Hirst Joan Miro and Richard Serra among them. The virtual initiative was launched by the International Fine Print Dealers Association, of which the gallery is a member, following the cancelation of its massive IFPDA Fine Art Print Fair at Manhattan’s Javits Center, which is now a field hospital for COVID-19 patients.
Though Galerie Maximillian has remained closed for the past seven weeks, its three-member staff has continued working virtually and building a more robust online presence on art-collecting sites like Artsy and Artnet, on social media trough Instagram, while also keeping in touch with regular clients.
With the summer calendar all but emptied, Galerie Maximilian made available works it had been holding onto for the big Independence Day holiday in Aspen, including pieces by Grayson Perry, Anish Kapoor and Julian Opie. The “mud season” doldrums of May would not normally be a time to debut such high-profile new works, but Galerie Maximillian — open in Aspen since 1997 — has found its collector clients are eager to support the gallery and its artists.
“Just because the gallery is closed doesn’t mean that artists aren’t offering new artwork,” Iacullo said. “So we have had quite a bit of sales. We have wonderful clients that are always waiting for new opportunities.”
Galerie Maximillian is eyeing the week of May 18 to reopen, not with sales in mnd but instead as a service to the local community and a way to connect while social distancing.
“We want to be a clean, safe place for people,” Iacullo said. “We want to be an opportunity to get out of the house. If they’ve already done their hike and their bike ride for the day and need somebody to talk to, we want to be here. … This is going to be a strange summer. But a friendly face is always nice and we will have art up.”
Summer 2020 won’t be summer as Aspen has come to know it, no matter how much business is allowed to reopen. Crowds will be thin by necessity, the standard splashy art openings are unlikely to jive with public health orders, and anchor collector events like the Aspen Art Museum’s ArtCrush, Anderson Ranch Arts Center’s in-person Summer Series and the ArtAspen fair have been canceled.
But gallerists are holding out hope that the combination of locals, drive-up regional tourist traffic and second-home owners can keep brick-and-mortar galleries going.
In normal times, Aspen’s commercial art scene runs apace with the tourist seasons. Major exhibitions and openings generally fall around the tourist booms of Christmas, Presidents’ Day, Independence Day, and spring break, when this year many galleries had new work installed for the March 13-15 weekend that went unseen as the local lockdown began.
Few, for instance, got to view the Andy Taylor solo show at Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt. The gallery is now showing “Art of the New West,” a 10-artist exhibition of contemporary Western art, online. The gallery was in the midst of developing a new website this spring. COVID-19 forced the gallery to speed up its e-commerce and online offerings.
“It has helped us plan a little bit for the future and how things might work in the future for galleries,” said gallery director Sue Edmonds.
Through its email list and website, the gallery has kept business going through the shutdown.
“For the sake of the artists, we want to keep selling,” Edmonds said.
Korologos is planning to reopen Tuesday, with limited hours.
Some galleries began showing and selling work online for the first time in the past seven weeks, while many with e-commerce presences in place have launched more virtual experiences.
Elliott Yeary Gallery began hosting virtual shopping soon after local businesses were closed, offering people video-chat browsing in the gallery as well as one-on-one connections with artists and jewelry designers to discuss their work from their studios. The gallery has also shared a steady stream of artist takeovers on Instagram, giving the public a dose of cultural entertainment while driving some sales (the gallery has also dropped prices by as much as 20% on its collection).
“This made us go full throttle on social media and virtual shopping,” said Herr, the gallery’s manager. “Customers have liked the personal experience. And they have time to talk and explore jewelry and art. Interestingly, it’s cultivated relationships with our clientele.”
The virtual initiatives will change how the gallery operates moving forward, she said, even when things eventually go back to something like normal.
Like many local galleriests, Herr said that regular clients, who know galleries are closed and need support, have bought work to help the gallery and its artists.
Elliott Yeary hasn’t set a date to open their doors to walk-ins, but the gallery has remained open by appointment through the shutdown, with clients and gallerists wearing masks.
The 212 Gallery was uniquely positioned to weather the shutdown. The contemporary art gallery vacated its Aspen brick-and-mortar space and went digital in 2015, while launching community art projects like Shepard Fairey’s downtown mural and pop-up two years ago.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S., the gallery launched a line of Banksy-inspired facemasks and, as owner Katie Kieran put it, “have focused our time and resources on presenting art to our friends and collectors purely as a source of inspiration and stress relief. … We’ve kept it light, joyful and avoided trying to ‘sell’ anything.”
Valley Fine Art, which specializing in Western art and historic photographs by Edmund S. Curtis, was also suited to weather the shutdown. The gallery, with its niche collection and loyal specialist clientele, already had a robust e-commerce business and had its entire collection online.
But owner Mia Valley isn’t focused on sales.
“At this time I just want to be of service,” she said, noting that many of her sales during the shutdown have been purchased as gifts for loved ones. “Gifts are my favorite because you’re making people happy and it’s fun to be a part of that.”
As the pandemic hit, Valley began touching base with her collectors on a personal level.
“At first I just started calling my older clients because I truly wanted to check in,” she said. “I had the most amazing response. People were touched that would pick up the phone and call them just to ask how they are.”
Valley plans to start opening on the weekends when the stay-home order lifts Saturday, hoping to reopen full time later in the summer.
While art galleries may be among the first businesses to reopen and operate in compliance with “Safer at Home” orders, galleries don’t exist in a vacuum. Olson, the Aspen Grove owner, noted that they are part of an ecosystem of interdependent tourist economy businesses here. So until hotels and restaurants and the rest of Aspen can run full-strength, galleries will continue to suffer economically.
Kieran, of 212, urged anybody who is here and can afford to spend money right now to do so locally, whether in galleries or elsewhere.
“As our community slowly begins to reopen, we all need to find ways to shop locally wherever and wherever possible — even if it’s a little inconvenient or costs more,” she said. “Otherwise, when the lockdown ends there will be a lot of empty space in Aspen and we will lose many wonderful businesses that may never reopen after the March 2020 closure.”
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