Major museums are confronting a tricky balancing act right now. They’re tasked with keeping their exhibitions relevant to the public, even while closed, and with inventing new ways to capture this historical moment for posterity.
The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, has found a way to do both simultaneously. Through a new initiative called “Artists in Quarantine,” the museum is soliciting diaristic video snippets from creators around the world.
“We felt a responsibility to respond to an unprecedented historical moment by giving a voice to our community of artists,” the museum’s director, Melissa Chiu, tells Artnet. “Our intention is to capture a chronicle of this moment with intimacy and authenticity.”
Chiu, who conceived the idea just days after the museum closed in March, commissioned the artist Theaster Gates to realize the project with her. Gates’s video, which features the artist wandering around his vacant studio reflecting on his relationship to the space, is among the first of five videos released today on the the Hirshhorn’s websites. The others are contributions from artists Ragnar Kjartansson, Shirin Neshat, Tony Oursler, and Christine Sun Kim.
“It gives me a lot of pleasure to imagine that I can move freely between spaces,” Gates says in the minute-long clip. “It’s a freedom akin to making art.”
“We were thinking about the fact that this would be remembered as an important historical moment and about what the museum could do—as well as our responsibility—to play an active role in recording it. We knew that we wanted to start with capturing artists’ voices firsthand,” Chiu says, calling the project “an evolving, living archive of this moment.”
So far, the museum has reached out to more than 100 artists and collected dozens of videos in return, including submissions from Hank Willis Thomas, Marilyn Minter, and Mariko Mori. Moving forward, it will roll them out on YouTube and its social media channels twice per week. The videos will also be entered into the museum’s permanent collection—an artifact of this moment in time.
“There is no doubt that this moment will have an impact on art-making for years to come, not to mention the art world’s ecology,” says Chiu. “Where before this crisis the role of the museum may have been to gather people with the idea that a direct encounter with art can be transformative, right now we see museums as gathering visitors virtually to provide respite from these challenging times.”
See the other videos below.