Art imitates life, as the saying goes, and when life is overcome by a pandemic, artistic responses to a health crisis reveal diverse creativity and resilience. While COVID-19 has affected the world over, each experience to come from a global quarantine marks a unique set of circumstances. Using a sample size of 50 artists from 18 countries, Public Art Fund, a New York City-based non-profit that promotes accessible art, has organized Art on the Grid as a way for New Yorkers to see and integrate global art the pandemic has spawned into their local surroundings.
"Public art, with its broad accessibility and immediacy, has a special role to play in returning the experience of art to our lives," says Nicholas Baume, director and chief curator of the Public Art Fund. Art on the Grid is thus not a typical, centralized exhibition: The panels on 500 bus stops and over 1,500 WiFi kiosks throughout New York City's five boroughs display the 50 different artworks. Launched in two phases—the first debuted June 26 followed by a second batch on July 27—these captivating pieces, which depict meditations on spontaneity, intimacy, isolation, loss, healing, and rebuilding, ultimately turn the city into an outdoor gallery.
Art on the Grid adds to the longstanding tradition of art and social justice going hand-in-hand in New York. "The exhibition was conceived in the context of emerging from the medical emergency," Baume explains, "and as it developed the parallel pandemic of systemic racism came into sharp and painful focus." Layers of meaning appear in works with themes of "renewal" and "reconnection," per Baume, noting how indispensable artistic expression and communities are during times of adversity.