Overheard in the Gallery – exploring the art gallery world in a time of Covid

A few months ago we discovered the South African art world’s most entertaining Instagram account, Overheard in the Gallery, at an exhibition at Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

Overheard in the Gallery is the creation of a collective of 4th year Fine Art students at Wits University – Shayna Rosendorff,  Jordan Cassidy Anthony, Victoria Bester, Tzung Hui Lauren Lee and Saajidah Fazludin. Below is their manifesto. Funny, sharp, satirical and full of truth. Just like art it depends on how you look at it.

The social media account shares just that, comments overheard at art galleries and exhibitions, made by ordinary gallery visitors. At different times really funny, and occasionally ironically insightful, or even shocking, the comments reveal how art is received outside of the gilded spaces of the academy and artist and gallery relationships, and art catalogues. They are unique of the moment snapshots of the Joburg art gallery scene, it’s regular patrons and its newcomers, and how they interact within the gallery space.

What the account underlines is that there is no qualification one needs to look at art or appreciate it. Of course that doesn’t take away from an art education and a trained view but in essence art appreciation is a relationship between an individual and a work. Anyone can look at art.

As lockdown forced art galleries to close temporarily and take their shows online, @Overheard_in_the_gallery took their eyes and ears into the online space, trawling comments for interesting snippets “overheard in the comments”. In many ways it is easier to express your true feelings and be heard on a digital platform and as the art world navigates a future where it depends on both the digital and physical spheres, accounts like @overheard_in_the_gallery become very more valuable spaces for gallerists and artists to actively listen to the thoughts of their patrons.

The team behind the must-follow Instagram account shared their story with us.

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same old, same old

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“Pre-covid, we were your local Joburg gallery regulars, working our way through Johannesburg art institutions, listening carefully to what people were saying about art, and sharing it on our instagram page. Cue covid, and we still exist online but lose the experience of entering that gallery space physically.

The shift to the virtual space, thrust us into the global art world. While we are located in Johannesburg we are able to participate in a global art conversation, navigating that shift from Johannesburg to a global space because one thing we’ve noticed is that all art spaces relate to each other.

Since the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 virus, all societies have been disrupted in some way or another and the world as we know it seems to have been brought to its knees.

Most of you will have noticed that the art world is in a major shift of ‘going digital’ and the audience that art in galleries reaches is continuously expanding.

So, in a response to this, in a way of recalling a nostalgic time – the pre-covid world – @overheard_in_the_gallery took the time to physically visit your favourite art spaces and engage in active listening that shed light on the overlooked scene of the audience as art critic. As a collective of five, we not only existed online but we also took part in a physical interventions where we placed stickers of our overheard commentary all around the city (Braamfontein, Sandton, Rosebank, etc.).

Operating under restrictions has confined us to the digital, however this shift in the art scene with galleries operating predominantly online has opened up a space to interact ever more so critically. It can be said that you cannot experience the art world without paying attention to its critique therefore @overheard_in_the_gallery brings the people of the city of Johannesburg and beyond an insider to the digital art space.

@overheard_in_the_gallery has created a segment for the digital called ‘OverRead in the Comments’ which draws from online comments directed at various gallery pages and artist’s works.

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can confirm

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We acknowledge that online commentary has always existed, however there is a change in the content within the commentary that has made the audience more open to voicing their opinions. We aim to extract commentary that not only allows for a broader audience to interact with our posts but to also become aware of the underlying issues within the commentary we find. Voicing these issues in the physical was a challenge but now that many people have migrated to the ‘online’, we find that these issues can finally become more ‘heard’.

Aside from existing as a diverse group of individuals from Johannesburg, our online presence not only reaches Johannesburg but it has begun to display a potential for global presence. This means that @overheard_in_the_gallery is not site-specific and much of the physicality of our work is based online, as an online exhibit of critique stemming from the local art scene and still existing very much in it.

We therefore invite you to voice your opinions and critiques with OverRead in the Comments on our Instagram Page: @Overheard_in_the_gallery.”

Make sure to follow their account for a daily dose.

Team Overheard in the Gallery

Follow the conversation online at instagram.com/Overheard_in_the_gallery

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