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Covid’s Metamorphoses: How Coronavirus Has Transformed the Artworld (updated)

Everything has changed since I left home (and temporarily paused blogging) two and a half weeks ago for the birth in California of the wonderful CultureGranddaughter—my fourth grandchild. Covid-19 fears had caused both my flights between Newark and San Francisco, usually fully booked, to be almost half empty.

The line (or lack thereof) to get through security for our flight home from San Francisco’s airport
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Our hotel, the commodious, well appointed Homewood Suites, Palo Alto, usually packed on weekdays with young adults doing business with the area’s big tech companies, seemed eerily empty. While I was there, I learned that many Silicon Valley companies, including Apple, had instructed their employees to work from home. That said, popular Castro Street restaurants in Mountain View were still hopping with young people when we arrived; less so when we left.

It wasn’t until we returned home, though, that the new reality fully hit me: “Life, as we know it, has changed,” as Mark Sokolich, the mayor of my hometown, Fort Lee, NJ, put it on Monday at the start of his second town-hall teleconference for local residents outlining actions taken to address the public health crisis.

Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich
Screenshot from posted video of his Mar. 18 teleconference

While my husband and I were away, we had learned that Fort Lee had the first presumptive case of coronavirus in New Jersey. (To the best of my knowledge, it is still the only known case in Fort Lee, but neighboring Bergen County communities, particularly Teaneck, have been harder hit.)

UPDATE: In a new video announcement, the Mayor has just informed the community that we now have seven confirmed cases in Fort Lee.

At the end of February, when I embarked on my proud-grandma expedition, everyone (including government officials) was just beginning to come to terms with how best to navigate the growing health crisis. Upon my return, my first inkling of a dramatic change in social behavior came when I expectantly called my son to arrange to come visit and play with my two East Coast grandchildren, only to be told that I needed to hold off for a while: Unsaid (but understood) was that our time spent in airports and on airplanes had given us multiple opportunities for exposure to the highly contagious disease.

As I’ve now learned, Santa Clara County (where CultureDaughter, her husband, their very active toddler and their cuddly newborn reside) is one of seven Bay Area counties where residents have been ordered to “shelter in place” since yesterday (Tuesday).

As the San Francisco Chronicle described it:

[This is] “the strictest measure of its kind yet in the continental United States—directing everyone to stay inside their homes and away from others as much as possible for the next three weeks as public health officials desperately try to curb the rapid spread of coronavirus across the region.

CultureGrandson, 3 years old, has always been good at entertaining himself (even while staying two nights with us in our hotel, while his Mom was in the hospital), as long as he has lots of trucks to play with and books to peruse. This morning, he got to attend the daily “Circle Time” with his preschool classmates, via the Zoom app—a good social tool for all of us who are suddenly housebound and crave some group-interaction.

To entertain my East Coast Grandkids, also home from school for the duration, there was this…

…and this:

Photos by CultureSon

That said, if housebound for weeks, or even months, we could all get pretty cranky.

While not quite as consequential as the disruptions to businesses and to parents of young children suddenly confined at home because of closures of schools and day care centers, the shuttering of places where large numbers of people congregate has paralyzed the artworld in the New York City metropolitan area.

On Thursday, the day I returned home, my art-centric inbox was flooded by announcements of temporary shutdowns. Last Wednesday, the Metropolitan Museum invited me to the press preview for Making the Met, the highly anticipated signature exhibition for its 150th anniversary (for which I immediately RSVPd):

The next day, I received this email—one sign of how rapidly plans have been unraveling:

On Mar. 11, the Association of Art Museum Directors began posting a running list of member institutions that had closed to the public. But as of today, all AAMD member museums in the U.S. and Canada have closed. A crowdsourced international list of closed museums of all types (not just American art institutions) is here.

Galleries have jumped on the closure bandwagon, as I reported last Friday in this tweet:

As for me, my antidote for social isolation will be trying to catch up on a blog backlog—posts I’ve been planning to make but haven’t gotten around to. That, and devouring my two-month supply of dark chocolate:

I’ll have more to say in a future post about the ramifications of the artworld’s aborted spring season. For now, stay healthy, art-lings!

an ArtsJournal blog