There’s no reason why the art gallery as we know it, a 19th century invention, should last forever. But there’s also no sign of an alternative on the horizon. As with other small New York businesses that’ve been closed since mid-March, it’s not clear how many galleries will be able to hold out long enough to reopen. (When I began writing this, galleries had begun to reopen in Berlin, Paris, and elsewhere with proper protection, but no clear date for reopening had been set for those in New York; now the latter have started reopening, still mostly, it seems, by appointment.) For now, artists depend on galleries, if not for subsistence—few have ever been able to live entirely from the sale of their work—then to make their work known, to cultivate a public for it.
The pandemic has not put an end to all gallery activity, though: Galleries are going gangbusters trying to keep their constituencies involved online. My inbox has never been more full of frantic appeals for attention. Galleries that used to send out announcements a couple of times a month now seem to reach out on a daily basis, asking me to check out their highlighted work of the day, to peruse their “online viewing rooms,” or to join the audience for a virtual studio visit with one of their quarantined artists. I’m having none of it. I’ll be happy to bide my time and wait until I can safely see real things in real three-dimensional space.