How Does the Digital Gallery Hop compare to the Physical Gallery Crawl?
Updated: Aug 1
A Gallery Hopper's Experience at Al-Serkal's Online Time Lab
I decided the night before, that it was time for one of my full-day gallery hops. I enjoyed the hops in London, moving between the Mayfair and Soho galleries and over here in Dubai at Al-Serkal Avenue. However, when the COVID 19 pandemic hit its peak last February, all have shut their doors and like millions around the world, I was stranded home. Whilst many galleries in Dubai began receiving visitors again in June 2020, most were strictly by appointment only. And let me tell you my dear reader, I had no intention of calling every gallery at the avenue and scheduling a set-time to be there. Afterall, just like bar hopping, you do not know when you will be done!
Following the morning shower, I put on my favourite loungewear; leggings and a baggy T-Shirt and sprayed on the fruity Red Apple, White Peony and Cashmere Wood Eau de Parfum I had just received by courier from Beauty Pie. Ah! The sweet indulgences we grant ourselves in isolation! I took my time to prepare a hazelnut cappuccino with extra froth to indulge in with the gooiest double chocolate chip cookie I could find in the market.
I entered my office, turned on the Bluetooth speakers and chose a playlist of Debussy’s piano works from Spotify to play in the background. I then yanked open my laptop screen and began typing Al-Serkal’s online URL. As I did so, I smiled and took a deep breath. I am about to go on a journey, I thought to myself.
The landing page welcomed me into the gallery space by an almost full screen window with a large play button that read “Explore 3D Space”. I entered through the window and found myself at the real-life entrance of Heller’s gallery in Dubai. An oversize painting by the Emirati Abdel Qader Al-Rais hung proud on the foyer wall promising me a feast of visual delights. I moved my mouse along the indicatory virtual circles and began inspecting the exhibition: clicking on the paintings, measuring them with the virtual ruler and zooming-in from different angles. Although the Matterport software that supported the virtual exhibition did not provide me with the tactile feel of the paintings had I physically attended the exhibition, it allowed me to scrutinise the hangings more carefully. I left Al-Rais’s room having discovered his earlier realism paintings of interiors; a visual subject that has long captured my interest. Before exiting the gallery, I took a quick 3D doll-house tour since I had seen the other displays in person before the shutdown.
The second exhibition I visited was a solo show for André Butzer at Carbon 12 Gallery. This time, before entering the 3D space, I read the introductory wall text below the clickable window. I had not come across this artist before and felt it necessary to gain some background knowledge before entering the show since I could see abstract planes of colour on canvas in the thumbnail. The text was very brief and the short video of the gallery’s founding director, Koroush Nouri did not reveal more. After going through the 3D exhibition, I felt even more perplexed and dissatisfied. Sure enough, some of the paintings had pretty colour combinations, but nothing ground-breaking. However, just before exiting the gallery, a thought popped into my mind: I can google this artist and find out more. I wasted no time and opened a second window in chrome and searched for the artist in the online realm. The 1st entry belonged to his representing gallery in Berlin. There, I found the information I was seeking. Even more, I saw his complete oeuvre and the rich body of works he had produced over the years. Now, the paintings I had seen at Carbon 12 gallery were put in context and I was able to appreciate them better. I even formed an opinion! The quality of the artworks on display at Carbon 12 were subpar to those available at Galerie Max Hetzler.
Ayyam Gallery provided a richer though equally brief introduction to Safwan Dahoul’s exhibition, The Awakening. Comprised of only four oversized acrylic on canvas pieces that stretch to 2.2m in length, the monochrome artworks evoked a surreal dreamlike presence. The carefully painted shadows that fool the eye into believing that a crumpled translucent sheet was placed on top of the canvases, contribute to the dream theme. Further insight was given by Maya Samawi, the gallery’s partner short video. The Awakening was specially commissioned for Art Dubai 2020; which was cancelled last March, as a follow-up to Dahoul’s Dream Series that started in the 1980s.
Lucy, my 1-year-old German Spitz began to tug my leggings. She clearly needed to relieve herself. I asked her to wait but to no avail. So, I paused my background music and let her out into the backyard. Surely this activity is not part of your standard art gallery visit. However, there is something more grounded about the entire experience thus far. Unlike my past physical visits to art galleries in which I feel suspended in time and space, allowing my mundane existence to dissipate into a distant memory for the duration of my visit, this online visit showed me that I can integrate art shows into the everyday.
After cleaning her up, Lucy, Fluffy and I returned to the office to continue my crawl.
My next gallery of choice was Isabelle Van Den Eynde. I was intrigued by the thumbnail image and the short but highly informative exhibition description. They raised my depleting energy level. I entered the 3D space and was visually confronted by a blank white wall except for a carefully placed transparent wall sticker in small print of the artist’s name, Mohammed Kazem. I moved my mouse and glided through to the main room where two large wooden easel-like constructions stood in the middle on which four canvases were hung back-to-back. They were photo-realistic renditions of construction sites created with acrylic paint and ink. Almost 1.5m high and 2m long, they were all engulfing and virtually standing before them, I could almost feel the dust particles emanating from the unfinished cement floors. I took a closer look at the brush strokes by zooming in with my mouse and noted how the paint layers created shadows and light. I wondered if I would have been able to come this close to the painting in real-life.
Those paintings were part of a 2020 series consisting of 5 pieces aptly named Sound of Light. They were in dialogue with three other series by the same Emirati artist: Sound of Angles, Collecting Light and Windows. Sound of Angles occupied a smaller separate room which can only be accessed by walking through a door with the label restroom! The mid-sized paintings were framed in white.They showed what appears to be a white beam projected from the corner of A3 textured paper, thus dividing it into 3 triangles and 9 angles. The other two series were displayed in the same main room as Sound of Light. One showed plain white 2m high papers, whilst the Windows series encompassed small A4 watercolours pinned to the adjacent wall. They depicted black line drawings of construction sites with construction workers highlighted in washed out watercolours. How clever of the artist to acknowledge the construction workers like this, I thought to myself.I quickly jumped to the short explanatory video of Van den Eynde who was accompanied by Kazem himself. Lucky me, I thought, my own private tour with the artist.
The video was not really a tour of the exhibition, but the artist revealed the story behind the restroom labelled door. It was an installation piece of a 30-year-old door which he imported into the UAE from Cincinnati, Ohio in 2008 where he had done a residency program. The scratchings I had noted on my 3D visit and dismissed as incomplete renderings, were present in the real work. He had scratched away the different layers of paint and those were the colours he used for his Sound of Angles series. I really doubted this information would have been relayed to a visitor in real life.
By the time I reached the sixth gallery, I was already suffering from screen exhaustion. It was 4pm and I decided to end my visits. Reflecting on the online hop, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I had enjoyed it. There was none of the usual pressure to exhibit a degree of art sophistication when confronted by a perplexing piece in the presence of the attending assistant. Nor did I leave a gallery without fully learning about the exhibiting artist(s) which was only made possible through my second window research. I also had the opportunity to hear from the gallery founders, owners, curators and exhibiting artists (and thank-you for keeping it short). Arguably the most exciting part was transforming my online routine into a special day I looked forward to and now remember blithely.
The digital gallery hop may not completely replace my physical hop.However, as the technology keeps improving and curators begin to conceive shows that work both offline and online, such visits will become more frequent.Moreover, they will give me an opportunity as to millions of others to go gallery hopping across the world and design their own experience instead of having one pre-designed for them by the organisers.