Performance in a Pandemic

Well equipped to promote online connections and experiences, the Michael Gibson Gallery proves you can’t quarantine art

Photo: Michael Gibson

IF YOU THINK the fine art business ground to a halt because of Covid-19, you would be wrong. “Serious ­collectors are still collecting,” says Michael Gibson of the Michael Gibson Gallery. And artists are still creating.

And even while closed to the public, the Carling Street gallery continued to mount shows.

In May, a solo exhibit by Saskatchewan-based Jonathan Forrest sold well, says Gibson. In June, the space featured abstract work by Montreal’s Michael Smith and a series of pandemic-inspired paintings by New York-based Canadian artist Keiran Brennan Hinton, who spent the lockdown cooped up at his mother’s apartment in Toronto. Collectors snapped those up, too.

“On the whole, other than the closing of public galleries and the impact on art fairs, the pandemic has not had a ­devastating impact on the industry,” Gibson says.

“People have more time and are spending it at home. They don’t have additional expenses and realize the value of owning artwork. It is a tangible asset, not something that will disappear on the stock market” ―Michael Gibson

“People have more time and are spending it at home,” he notes. “They don’t have additional expenses and realize the value of owning artwork. It is a tangible asset, not something that will disappear on the stock market. Record prices were achieved in the past few months and demand is strong.”

Of course, finding clients with the disposable income to invest in art is not something that happens overnight. But Gibson, in business since 1984, has worked hard to build a nationwide reputation for offering the best in established and emerging Canadian talent.

Gibson was also an early adopter of technology. He launched a gallery website way back in 1997 and has since embraced e-newsletters and social media, including video channels, as a way to reach beyond the gallery walls.

During the height of the pandemic, the gallery hosted Zoom openings where collectors could see the new exhibit and speak with artists from the comfort of home. “It was actually kind of cool,” Gibson says.

Story Continues BelowPerformance in a Pandemic  Highlights

The technology also allowed Gibson to pay virtual studio visits to artists located in Winnipeg and New York. “From a business point of view, and particularly my visual business, it worked really well,” says Gibson. “It’s something we may actually continue.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, the gallery’s weekly e-newsletter took on a decidedly personal tone, with Gibson sharing anecdotes from his life in art, favourite recipes and movie and music suggestions.

“A lot of people were pretty depressed. I was wondering, How are we all going to get through this?” he explains. “I decided why don’t we just have a really decadent grilled cheese sandwich, a nice bottle of wine and maybe listen to some jazz. I think it was a form of escapism, but the response has been amazing.”

Performance in a Pandemic  Highlights

 

Having spent a considerable amount of time at the gallery during the height of the pandemic, Gibson says he is excited to see life returning to the core. “It’s going to be a challenge for a lot of businesses,” he comments. “We are going to ­suffer from the big office towers and Budweiser Gardens being empty.”

And while it remains to be seen how people’s shopping habits may have changed due to Covid-19, Gibson believes there is still an appetite for unique experiences and local personalities.

“We need some new, interesting tenants. We need ­millennials to sign a lease and open up whatever they want to open up. And we need people to support independent ­businesses and to get to know the people they are ­supporting.” Performance in a Pandemic  Highlights Nicole Laidler

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