Did you visit a virtual art gallery?

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Digital art space: The pandemic may have accelerated the necessity for virtual art spaces, but they were always inevitable. Pictures: Supplied
Digital art space: The pandemic may have accelerated the necessity for virtual art spaces, but they were always inevitable. Pictures: Supplied


Going out was out of the question for most of the year. Fortunately we could rely on a few online hangouts and activities. The art gallery was one of them. 

The thought of being cooped up for as long as we were due to the Covid-19 pandemic may bring back memories of claustrophobia. We had to resort to different kinds of entertainment when the TV got boring, and a number of online performances stepped in – some more memorable than others.

Not to be left behind, art galleries adapted, with some offering their gallery spaces virtually. The Standard Bank Art Gallery is one of those spaces. The gallery’s esteemed curator, Dr Same Mdluli, unpacks how this came about and how this creative call kept the pandemic at bay and artists working.

“The virtual gallery has been an existing part of the Standard Bank Arts portfolio strategy in keeping on par with trends and developments happening in the sector. The virtual gallery initially launched with the David Koloane exhibition, with the aim of extending the exhibition to audiences who may not have had the opportunity to see it in person.”

She says the virtual gallery was also envisioned as an archival and cataloguing method that could live online long after an exhibition closes.

Dr Same Mdluli. Picture: Supplied

“Due to the closure of the gallery, this aspect became important in making exhibitions accessible to a wider audience.”

The process of creating exhibitions this way doesn’t take long, either: “The exhibition is photographed at very high resolution and put into a computer program known as Matterport and made live on the internet.”

The most spoken about exhibition of 2020?

Read: New virtual gigs to get you ‘social’ again 

“I wouldn’t say it was controversial, but certainly A Black Aesthetic: A View of South African Artists (1970-1990) was one of the most talked about.”

This young curator recalls the beginning of lockdown.

“There was this sentiment that it [Covid-19] was providing a moment to reflect. And while I agree with this sentiment to a certain extent, I don’t believe it was a good time for artists to reflect, precisely because they rely on life happening for their inspiration. I think it was a good moment for artists to work on projects they had put on hold or to explore a new medium, but not necessarily to reflect.”

So what does the new year hold?

“This will obviously depend on the situation in the country, as it will impact whether the gallery will reopen to the public or not. This year has given us the opportunity to look introspectively at our corporate art collection, so we will be focusing on some works from our own collection.”

With the country in the middle of a second infections wave, more galleries should consider virtual media.


Phumlani S Langa 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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