Museums are putting their shows and collections online as coronavirus keeps us indoors
The lockdown doesn’t have to mean the death of cultural consumption, thanks to some agile programming from museums, galleries and other cultural organisations. So what’s out there for the house-bound architect to enjoy?
The Architecture Foundation has been particularly resourceful, swiftly putting together The 100 Day Studio, a free programme of live lectures, interviews and building tours (until 27August). The rather inspired reference point was The Decameron, a 14th century tale by Giovanni Boccaccio in which a group of people outside Florence taking refuge from the Black Death in the city take turns to tell 100 stories. Indeed, story telling is one strand of the programme, with a series of Bedtime Stories. Readers in the first week included architect and engineer Maria Smith reading Will Self’s Between the Conceits and landscape architect Tim Waterman on Michael Sorkin’s Eutopia Now.
The Foundation has invited contributors to come up with ideas for new formats – Sam Jacob kicked off the Studio with a live tour of his desktop and Mallorca based practice Ted’A is asking some of its domestic clients to provide online tours of their homes. There are also plenty of well known names including Tony Fretton, Joe Morris, Annalie Riches, Jeremy Till, Niall McLaughlin, Ken Worpole – but Foundation director Ellis Woodman, who curated the programme with Rosie Gibbs-Stevenson, is also keen to include new faces who might not have figured in their usual Barbican talks.
The Design Museum is also mobilising digital offerings with its new weekly series Design Dispatches. This started with a live studio tour via Instagram by fashion designer Christopher Raeburn, who works with re-purposed materials such as parachutes. Future Design Dispatches guests will include Ron Arad, John Pawson, Amanda Wakeley and Bella Freud.
Dezeen is planning Virtual Design Festival, billed as the world’s first online design festival, which starts on April 15 and will include talks, lectures, films and product launches.
Some museums are offering short online virtual tours of major exhibitions. The Tate is enabling viewers to get a curator-led video tour of its recently opened – and closed – Andy Warhol exhibition, and of the work of illustrator Aubrey Beardsley (from April 13). Both were recorded following the recent temporary closure of the gallery and are viewable on YouTube and the Tate website. The Warhol film takes a lively look through Warhol’s immigrant background, the development of his hugely influential work and his place in the New York art scene, his near death experience and his concerns with identity, death and religion. The Beardsley film will look at his often risqué work, produced in an intense seven year period before his death in 1898 from tuberculosis at the age of 25.
Meanwhile the Royal Academy is planning a new Artists in Isolation series, which will bring updates on creativity in isolation from its august ranks of Academicians from their homes.
There is plenty out there to explore – institutions like the Victoria & Albert Museum have a huge amount of material on their websites that most of us probably rarely have the opportunity to peruse when there’s so much to actually visit in person, but now have ample time. I had no idea, for example, that it was possible to browse through some of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks on the V&A site. At the Hayward Gallery, I also enjoyed the short look at the virtual tour of the Among the Trees exhibition on artists’ relationships with trees and forests, in which gallery director Ralph Rugoff analyses two key pieces of work within the show (see also the RIBAJ review).
The Institute of Contemporary Art has been producing a lively ICA Daily programme of art-related content put together by its curators since the venue temporarily closed. My favourites so far are the short films created by Meriem Bennani in which lizard characters respond to the Covid-19 lock down.
Zed Nelson’s debut film The Street, which should be required viewing for anyone embarking on urban regeneration, has just been released on DVD and video on demand (including Curzon Home Cinema, Amazon Prime Video and BFI Player). Filmed over four years, the documentary focuses on Hoxton Street, an area of East London just a mile from the City of London that has lately been facing huge social and economic change. It’s a story of austerity, gentrification, Brexit and the fall-out from Grenfell, told through the eyes both of the people who live there and those who are involved in the changes that are going on and coming their way.
If we’re still in lockdown by the time of the London Festival of Architecture comes around in June, we’ll be extremely grateful for the promised array of content as the festival goes digital as LFA Digital 2020 ahead of a programme of public events – these are now moving to later on in the year. Meanwhile there’s still time – until May 1 – to come up with ideas for content for LFA Digital 2020 – this year’s theme is Power. Submission details are at www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org/.
As more organisations develop their Covid-19 closure activities through digital programmes, there are likely to be plenty more cultural offerings out there to enjoy, not to mention the wealth of creative responses that will surely flow as we emerge from, and reflect on, the virus crisis.
Keep an eye on the RIBA website for details about reopening dates and opportunities to explore RIBA exhibitions and themes, from the comfort of your own home.