Of all the cultural formats, visual arts would seem the most easily adapted to the COVID era. Museums have long used timed tickets for blockbuster exhibitions. Galleries can be visited by appointment. And film can be readily viewed on the small screen — or as we’ve rediscovered, on a large one from the safety of a car.

None of that helps the December art fairs, which depend on crowds to support organizers’ costs of exhibition space and gallery stalls and gallerists’ costs of shipping and staffing. So it was no surprise when Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Miami / Context and NADA announced they would not stage their regular December showcases — dealing a spiritual blow to the region along with an economic hit to hotels, restaurants, museums, galleries and artists.

The good news: Many museums, galleries and artist spaces have already reopened; others will soon. SuperBlue — a new immersive installation center in Allapattah supported by executives of New York Pace Gallery and Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective — still plans to open in December.

And yes, Miami Art Week will go on this year, though in a hybrid format.

Several of the major fairs — including Art Basel Miami Beach, Art Miami / Context, and NADA — have announced virtual editions for the first week in December as they invite gallerists to apply for fairs planned for late 2021. Meanwhile, local arts institutions are engaged in weekly calls as they plan a hybrid virtual-and in-person festival focused on local artists and organizations.

Beyond short-term impact, arts organizations say the pandemic’s acceleration to virtual platforms has resulted in permanent shifts that help them connect with audiences often physically located far from the county line. It also is giving digital artform new importance.

“This is definitely a sea-change moment,” said Dennis Scholl, CEO of Oolite Arts. When the coronavirus spread pushed the region into lockdown, the organization once known as South Florida Arts Center quickly took its art classes and curator talks virtual and added an online showcase, so supporters could collect works from Oolite artists.

The virtual connection will continue, he said, even after art gets physical again.

“We have found this moment has allowed us to become a national and international organization. We’re getting views from Rome, London, New York and L.A.,” said Scholl. “We don’t want to give that back.”

Franklin Sirmans, director of Pérez Art Museum Miami
Franklin Sirmans, director of Pérez Art Museum Miami

The county-supported Pérez Art Museum Miami has also found a greater online audience for events than it could fit in its physical museum auditorium for its virtual conversations between director Franklin Sirmans and quarantined artists.

Its first virtual program was a talk planned in person — with video and multimedia artist Cara Despain, who dialed in from where she was staying in Salt Lake City. Thanks to a two-year, Knight Foundation-funded effort to increase digital engagement that was well under way, PAMM was able to quickly advance its virtual program.

The advantages of virtual conversations became immediately clear, including a far less cumbersome time commitment on the part of the artist. As a result, PAMM was able to take a schedule of planned monthly showcases for Miami artists weekly; engaging faraway artists like Los Angeles-based David LaChapelle and Tallahassee-based George Clinton.

Once the museum reopens, even live events will have a virtual element, said Sirmans. “There’s no going back.”

PAMM staff is now actively installing its next exhibition, originally planned for last April — although the process takes about four times longer with social distancing precautions. PAMM expects to reopen before November with a show of powerhouse Black artists.

When it does, visitors will purchase timed tickets online and be encouraged to follow a route through the museum that encourages social distancing. Said Sirmans: “It seems best to be conservative.”

Fountainhead, a Miami studio and residency program, has already tested timed entry and found it works. Earlier this fall, it hosted timed, pre-booked visits to its Morningside residency. Enthusiasts actually arrived on time — a Miami rarity — and followed all protocols, said founder and executive director Kathryn Mikesell.

By then, Fountainhead had plenty of experience with its pandemic pivot. As the crisis emerged, the organization was arranging the second annual Artists’ Open, an open house of artists’ studios countywide that was scheduled for May 2020.

Kathryn Mikesell, an art collector and an art patron, looks at work by Ebony G. Patterson and Maia Cruz Palileo during Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.
Kathryn Mikesell, an art collector and an art patron, looks at work by Ebony G. Patterson and Maia Cruz Palileo during Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.

“Obviously that wasn’t going to happen,” said Mikesell. “We thought, how can we do this … not only shining a light on Miami-based artists but also helping artists feel connected in an unconnected world?”

The answer was live virtual studio visits through Instagram and Instagram Live. Throughout the summer, Fountainhead livecast as many as five visits per week; this fall it has dropped back to two per week as Fountainhead reintroduces in-person studio open houses at its Little River studios.

Because of the lockdown, artists had to handle the technology on th
eir own. Fountainhead provided coaching and education up front. The result wasn’t always polished, but it was effective. “It was this very human interaction with an artist,” she said.

More than 100 local artists have participated in the virtual studio visits, drawing 500 to 1,000 virtual visitors each. In a recent survey of artist-participants, 100% of respondents said the program resulted in art sales, commissions, speaking engagements or heightened interest in their work, Mikesell said. The visits are archived on Fountainhead’s Youtube channel.

Gallerists, too, have gone digital. In place of the popular Sunday brunch hop. Galleries in Little Haiti, Little River and across the Upper East Side have gone to Instagram live stories and posts as they guide virtual visitors through their shows.

Artist-gallerists Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova and Frances Trombly at the new Dimensions Variable gallery space on NW 79th Street in Miami. The gallery reopens on May 11.
Artist-gallerists Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova and Frances Trombly at the new Dimensions Variable gallery space on NW 79th Street in Miami. The gallery reopens on May 11.

The experience is less intimidating for some visitors than the in-person experience, says Leyden Rodriguez-Casanova, co founder and co director with wife and fellow artist Frances Trombly of Dimensions Variable in Little Haiti. The next event is scheduled for Oct. 25.

But for Rodriguez-Casanova and Trombly, the most important promise of digital isn’t as a communications tool but as an art form.

Most of the art world has been incorporating augmented reality into physical experiences in specific locations, Rodriguez-Casanova said. But in his view, few institutions have explored digital platforms deeply.

“We wanted to reach out to artists who had been looking at the digital space conceptually as a serious space and medium,” he said.

With help from a Warhol Foundation grant, DV decided to move forward with a commission to Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain for “Get Well Soon,” a directory-like work of messages from pandemic gofund.me pages.

“It’s just data and code,” he said. “It doesn’t have the pageantry with a normal opening, but we thought it was important to make it an exhibition.”

Since then, DV has added digital shows of Yann Novak’s “Offset.Aura” and Francisco Masó’s “Where’s Your Favorite Place for Political Art at Home.” More are on the way.

While DV’s physical galleries are now open by appointment, the interest in digital art will continue.

“The art world is missing the boat in the most pivotal shift of this age — the internet and social media,” Rodriguez-Casanova said. “We must be engaging people on their small digital devices in their bedrooms.”


Most South Florida art spaces have now reopened; others are scheduled to do so this fall:

Bakehouse Art Complex: Reopening Nov. 13 by appointment, with five solo exhibitions by Miami-based female artists: VantaBlack, Lauren Shapiro, Martiza Caneca, Amanda Linares and Clara Toro. bacfl.org

The Bass Museum: Now open, with exhibitions from its collections and an extension of Mickalene Thomas’s “Better Nights” show unveiled last December. thebass.org

BridgeRed Studios: Reopening Nov. 8 with the show “Clay,” featuring 20 South Florida ceramacists. bridgeredstudios.com

Coral Gables Museum: Now open with shows including “PURSEonality: A stylish history of the handbag” and “HEADLINES! Unfolding 117 Years of History with the Miami Herald.” coralgablesmuseum.org

de la Cruz Collection: Now open, with a maximum capacity of 30, showcasing the private collection of Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz. The current show, “A Possible Horizon,” includes new additions to this top-rated contemporary collection. delacruzcollection.org

Frost-FIU Museum of Art: The museum is open Wednesday-Saturday by appointment requested 48 hours in advance. Current exhibitions include “House to House: Women, Politics and Place,” exploring the changing roles of women from the home to the U.S House of Representatives; and “The Inside World: Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Memorial Poles from the Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection.” frost.fiu.edu

Galleries: Many are now open by appointment, including Atchugarry Art Center north of the Design District, David Castillo’s new gallery in the Melin Building of Miami Design District, Dina Mitrani pop-up gallery in Miami Design District, Emerson Dorsch in Little Haiti, Frederic Snitzer Gallery in downtown, IPC Art Space in Little Haiti, Mindy Solomon in Little River, Nina Johnson in Little Haiti, N’namdi Contemporary in Little River, Spinello Projects in Allapattah.

Hampton Art Lovers at the Historic Ward Rooming House: “Purvis Comes Home: Manchild in the Promised Land,” showcases work by the late Overtown artist Purvis Young. The exhibition runs through Oct. 3; visit by making an appointment through eventbrite at eventbrite.com (search Purvis Comes Home).

History Miami: Reopening slated for Oct. 15. The virtual CultureFest 305: What Makes Miami, Miami, on Nov. 14-15, comprises live online performances, workshops and demonstrations, plus craft instructions, games, videos, and other activities. historymiami.org

Institute of Contemporary Art – Miami: Now open by timed reserved ticket, with special hours for seniors / at risk. Never-before- seen exhibitions by Allan McCollum (retrospective), Tomás Esson, and Vivian Caccuri. icamiami.org

FIU-Jewish Museum of Florida: Likely to open in late October. jmof.fiu.edu

Locust Projects: Reopened by appointment, Wednesday to Saturday. Through Oct. 17: Juana Valdes’s “Rest Ashore” multimedia installation; Raúl Romero’s “Onomonopoetics of a Puerto Rican Landscape” and Joelle Dietrick and Owen Mundy’s “Tally Saves the Internet.” New installations open Nov. 14. locustprojects.org.

Lowe Art Museum at University of Miami: No opening date set; likely post-Thanksgiving. lowe.miami.edu

Margulies Collection at the Warehouse: Open with new exhibition of contemporary masters and emerging talents, along with 150 photographs from its archives. margulieswarehouse.com

MDC Museum of Art + Design at the Freedom Tower: Reopening set for Nov. 5 with “The Body Electric,” an exploration of the real vs the virtual; Spanish artist Dora García’s video work “I remember Miami;” and “Remaking Miami: Josefina Tarafa’s Photographs of the 1970s.” mdcmoad.org

Miami Design District: New exhibitions, many visible from outside. miamidesigndistrict.net

Museum of Contemporary Arts – North Miami: Reopening in October (date TBA) with “Raúl de Nieves: Eternal Return and The Obsidian Heart.” mocanomi.org

Museum of Grafitti: Open with outdoor murals and indoor exhibit on the birth of the grafitti movement. museumofgraffiti.com

NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale: Reopened, extending three exhibitions from last spring: “Happy!,” “Transitions and Transformations; I Paint My Reality: Surrealism in Latin America” and “William J. Glackens: From Pencil to Paint.” nsuartmuseum.org

Pérez Art Museum Miami: Planned reopening in November with timed entry; no date set. Inaugural show “Allied with Power” showcases more than 30 works by Black artists from the collection of museum namesake Jorge M. Pérez. Diaspora. pamm.org

Rubell Museum: Now open with extension of its spectacular inaugural exhibition. rubellmuseum.org

Wolfsonian: No reopening date announced. wolfsonian.org

Wynwood Walls: No reopening date announced. thewynwoodwalls.com