Following the unprecedented cancellation of art student graduation shows across the UK due to the COVID-19 restrictions, there has been a seismic shift in the way art is presented that may have far reaching effects on the procurement of modern art.
With swift lockdown measures executed across the UK, the forced move from shows in a physical space to virtual shows housed online was met with anger among many students, especially artists working in a medium that did not translate favourably into the new online format. Many felt that giving their art the platform it deserved could only be achieved by postponing the physical shows to a later date. A stance championed by the students at London’s Royal College of Art, who launched the petition entitled “No to the Virtual Show” which accumulated over 8,000 signatures.
The petition argues that physical degree shows provide a vital platforms for students working in non-digital mediums such as sculpture, painting or performance to present their final projects for assessment, as well as bringing them to the attention of the press, galleries and collectors.
“An art or design degree without a physical degree show is not an art and design degree,” said the petition. Equally importantly, if the art is not transferable meaningfully to online platforms, we could risk press, galleries and collectors leaving the next generation of art superstars undiscovered.
The show is a monumental moment for many students, where they sell their first piece of work, or receive their first commission. It is certainly true that students have missed out on amazing commissions, job opportunities and contacts.
Adding insult to injury, the loss of a physical degree show was coupled with the loss of physical studio or workshop space that meant many students had to complete works for their degree or masters in makeshift conditions. As college buildings closed, artists were forced to improvise in often unsuitable surroundings.
The last few months has seen a relaxing of the lockdown and a concerted effort, where possible, to provide a platform to showcase the work of this year’s slew of artists. Of note, the Saatchi Gallery reopened to the public on Thursday 03 September with ‘London Grads Now’. This thought-provoking exhibition showcased works by graduating students from London’s leading fine art schools including; Royal College of Art, UCL: Slade School of Art, Goldsmiths: University of London, UAL: Chelsea College of Arts, UAL: Wimbledon College of Arts, UAL: Camberwell College of Arts and UAL: Central Saint Martins. Through an incredibly collaborative effort, the showcase brought together, under one exhibition, over 150 graduating artists and more than 200 works.
Starved of exposure, this kind of activity is not only a lifeline for artists, it is crucial for the galleries and collectors who need new exciting works to invest in and benefit from.
What the immediate future brings is almost impossible to predict. And that, almost certainly, will leave many young artists fearing for their future. However, if the art world embraces new and collaborative ways of showcasing work sympathetically to the medium in which it was produced, we may well be on the cusp of a totally new way of celebrating young artistic talent and offering an opportunity to share their creations worldwide in a way that was not possible before. And that could be a very interesting future indeed.