The museums are all ghost towns.
This isn’t just because they’re stuffed with mementos from long-gone artists, but because nobody is there to actually see them, on account of global closures forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. You can still do virtual tours of many Canadian museums and attractions, but that’s a bit like watching a three-hour Beyoncé concert on YouTube. Satisfying, sure, but it’s just not the same.
A silver lining, then, for the hopeful: since we can’t all go to the galleries, the galleries are coming to us.
Here in Canada, artists and art enthusiasts have started to recreate works of art using only their bodies, other people, and items lying around the homes they’re quarantining in.
And the results are brilliant.
“‘I am half sick of lockdown’ said/ The Lady of Shalott,” wrote one participant in a tweet, attaching a remixed version of John William Waterhouse’s “I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Said the Lady of Shalott.” In another, the presence of an iPhone jarringly modernizes Parmigianino’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” which was painted circa 1524.
The joining thread of these images is not just that they are, quite literally, life imitating art, but that much of the art being imitated can be found at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
It’s part of the museum’s “art at home challenge,” which seemingly launched shortly after the Los Angeles Getty Museum’s own version fielded over 24,000 contributions through the #gettymuseumchallenge hashtag. (The images can also be found under the #betweenartandquarantine and #mettwinning hashtags.)
Sometimes, it’s in groups:
Sometimes, food is involved:
Dogs can participate, too:
But when it’s people using their own bodies, there’s one consistent theme.
“In interviews with more than a dozen participants in the challenge — among them a Japanese actor living in London and a social worker from Azerbaijan — every person mentioned the sense of a lightness that came from pretending to be someone else for a moment,” Katy Kelleher wrote, in the New York Times, of the Getty Museum’s challenge.
This tracks — especially when you consider the whole “art as escape” thing people often talk about. “In my experience,” wrote the legendary art critic Gary Indiana, “life seldom imitates art, and certainly never improves on it.” In a pandemic, though, all bets are off. Nothing applies. The recreations might not be better than the originals, but they are something.
The challenge, too, might be a reminder that beauty can spring from crisis.
“I think art is an articulation of resilience. People create art through war and pandemics and hardship, and the work lives on for hundreds of years in museums or people’s homes,” Tatum Dooley, a Toronto writer who did the challenge, said in an interview with The Guardian. “If I’m re-enacting a portrait of Simonetta Vespucci from the 1400s, she’s continuing to live on in the world, and maybe I will too.”
Life as we know it has been indefinitely suspended. That time when we huffed and complained about the dizzying speed at which it moved now feels very far away. Everything has slowed to a full stop, as if all the traffic lights in the world are red. It’s terrifying. It’s discouraging. But with the surplus of time we now have, it’s also comforting to see how people have weaved it into something golden.
Communities are throwing online parties to help each other mitigate loneliness. Facebook groups are encouraging young people to do grocery deliveries for seniors . A Montrealer is recreating some of Céline Dion’s most iconic fashion moments. Inspired Ontarians are making art with their bodies.
Inspiration might be unreliable, but when it does come, isn’t it beautiful?