An exhibition of drawings from the JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey Collection set against the backdrop of the Coronavirus pandemic.
“Art makes being human and dealing with all of the things that life deals us, a little easier, because among other things, art is a mirror that helps reveal our inner selves, face suffering, process emotions and sometimes open us to new experiences.”
–Corina Larkin, Brooklyn Rail, May 2015
It all began in early March 2020. I was in NYC for ten days to attend the Armory Show and other art exhibitions before heading off to Europe. There I was to travel to Spain and Portugal before flying off to Paris to attend the “Drawing Now” Fair as a guest speaker. This would be a seminal moment for the collection, one eagerly anticipated.
My first clue something was awry arrived in the form of large boxes of emergency household supplies delivered to my door as I was about to depart. My second clue came as my daughter handed me two small plastic bags containing medicines, hand sanitizing gels and packets with explicit instructions to carry them with me at all times. I knew of her concerns about the coronavirus and my travel plans but proceeded anyway, unaware that her typically cautious position was warranted.
It wasn’t until I landed to a chorus of outcries in NYC did rising fears and concerns for borders, personal boundaries and international travel become obvious. Each day the threat of the spreading virus grew more intense. Buses and subways were running near empty. Restaurants saw little patronage, retail businesses had stagnated while grocery stores and pharmacies saw a run on supplies, most notably toilet paper and hand sanitizers.
Meanwhile, subtle messages from my daughter arrived daily, nudging me to return home while, at the same time, officials from “Drawing Now” messaged the fair would go on as scheduled. I was conflicted.
I soon found myself skipping meetings and “must see” exhibitions. Activities in general diminished until I just stopped leaving the apartment.
Worry and fear had set in. My senses were numbed. How can one look at art where there is no passion? How can one “see” without instinct? I had been holding out for an important studio visit upstate with an artist new to the collection. It was going to require either train travel or a private car. In the process of making that determination, the dealer called. Her artist had fallen ill and needed to cancel our appointment. Without hesitation, I decided to return home, cancelling everything scheduled for the European trip including Paris. I was disappointed but relieved.
Flying out of New York at 4:30 am on March 13, I encountered an unexpected throng of disconsolate and clamoring travelers eager to escape the city. The scene was gripping; an indication of a new reality I felt ill prepared to face. With gel in hand, I took my seat- last row, window, back corner, first class, the safest seat I was able to book.
I arrived home later that day to find the Vail Valley in lock down. It was peak ski season. Large numbers of national and international tourists had arrived for holiday. The number of reported viral cases had spiked, higher than those of the metropolitan Denver area. Eagle County was quick to take action.
In just 10 days, everything had changed. All of my belongings were sequestered. I entered my home, showered, washed my clothes and set out to self-quarantine for 14 days. The only travel I would experience for the foreseeable future would be room to room. The only human connection with colleagues and friends would be through phones and screens. My respite from monotony, the Eagle River fly fishing, peaceful and safe.
Six weeks into isolation, I began to feel irrelevant (cooking, organizing, cleaning, reading, and streaming). Emails and calls from friends had waned. I was missing the feel of their presence, the direct human connection pandemic guidelines would not allow. I needed something more.
I thought of the many times I had spoken to students and exhibition audiences about the direct human connection I feel in drawings. There it was. I had allowed the deluge of news, politics and impositions of the pandemic to overwhelm my senses, diverting my attentions from what I loved most, that place where I find passion and inspiration.
I dove in, reading all the museum and gallery feeds I’d saved to a file and combing through the images on the collection database. Drawing after drawing had resonance. I was experiencing them anew within the context of the pandemic.
Art is timeless. It addresses humanity, societal concerns, politics, science, history and philosophy. Art of the past speaks to the present and informs the future. I thought, “Why not curate an exhibition surveying the pandemic’s complexities and dialectical musings thru drawings.”
I’ve titled it “Distance Between”, taken from a collage by artist Jacob Whibley. The drawings selected are intended to evoke recollections of lived experiences relevant to the time. Characteristics indicative of the pandemic phenomenon are conveyed thru subject matter, as metaphor, in title, form or color. Collectively, the drawings navigate the pandemic terrain eliciting the emotions and challenges which have pervaded our lives thrusting us into the unknown.
“Distance Between”………that space where artist and viewer connect, amplifies the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis engulfing the globe.
JoAnn Gonzalez Hickey