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Get Your Gallery Fix Without Leaving Lockdown

An Auckland Art Gallery has taken its work off the walls and onto the net in an innovative solution to the shutdown.



The desire and the demand for taking in arts and culture have not waned over the past few turbulent weeks.

The problem has been the access, as COVID-19 protocol denied galleries and museums the chance to let patrons walk their hallowed halls and creative spaces. 

With its doors on Karangahape Road closed, Michael Lett Gallery was one of those, until they embraced the new way to exhibit artworks. Invited by Ocula to present a viewing room on the contemporary art platform’s site, Michael Lett launched Viewing Room, a digital space that extends the possibilities for experiencing art.

'The opportunity to do the Ocula Viewing Room was great,' said Andrew Thomas, Director of Michael Lett Gallery. 'It came at the right time.'

Getting the Ball Rolling

Their Ocula Viewing Room is entitled ‘#1’, a reference to both the gallery’s first foray into this kind of digital presentation and to the fact that they launched it one week into a nationwide lockdown of indeterminate length. It anticipates a need for ongoing innovation as we enter weeks two, three, four - and maybe more. Michael Lett also plans to launch viewing rooms on their own website. 

The presentation, hosted by global art platform Ocula, includes works by Simon DennyImogen TaylorKate NewbyPeter StichburySeraphine PickCerith Wyn EvansStella Corkery, and Martin Creed; names that are familiar to many in the creative community, but to each has an accompanying profile online to help grow the wider audience’s appreciation and knowledge.

Peter Stichbury, Joseph Geraci 1977 (2019). Courtesy Michael Lett.

Simulated Experience

This is more than some social media photo gallery. Works are presented in ultra-high-resolution, allowing viewers to zoom right in, the virtual equivalent of walking up to examine, for instance, the tiny text boxes depicting players’ changing fortunes in Denny’s exquisitely detailed Crypto Futures Game of Life Overprint Collage: Electronic Banking Dystopia (2018).

Images of the works are accompanied by quotes from artists and critics, the kind of smart conversation you’d hope to overhear at an opening. There’s critic Antony Byrt, for instance, describing tech titans in Denny’s works as fundamentally ideological, ‘either gods or monsters’ depending on your political perspective. There’s also a line from Martin Creed testifying to the power of therapy dogs.

Like offline exhibitions and art fairs, the Viewing Rooms have limited durations, making them an occasion, a reason to digitally congregate with no risk of contagion. Michael Lett’s Viewing Room #1 remains open until 14 April.

Seraphine Pick, New Behaviour IV (2019). Courtesy Michael Lett.

Unusual for many gallery presentations, both online and off, the prices are all listed. In this case, they range from US $3,500 (NZ $5900) for Newby’s glass sculpture Early Each Evening (2019) to GBP 20,000 (NZ $41,000) for Wyn Evans’ neon Now/Here (Nowhere) (2014).

Opening Closed Doors

Ocula began developing their Viewing Rooms in December last year but launched them this month because, ‘they offer a possibility, in this time of the COVID-19 crisis, for galleries around the world to continue to engage with their collectors and wider audience,’ according to Christopher Taylor, co-founder and director of Ocula.

‘We do expect galleries who use the Viewing Room to put prices on the works that are included,’ he said. ‘This is the most effective form of engagement for those who are of a mind to purchase a work seen in the Viewing Room.’

Image: Ocula Viewing Room, Viewing Room #1, Michael Lett, Auckland (26 March–14 April 2020).

Other galleries with Viewing Rooms on Ocula include Chambers Fine Art, New York and Beijing; Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul; Sabrina Amrani Gallery, Madrid; and ROSEGALLERY, Santa Monica. More viewing rooms are being added every week.

The art world has been experimenting with virtual gallery spaces for years—including features such as the ultra-high res images on Ocula and 3D galleries you can move through the way you advance to different viewpoints on Google Maps’ Street View—but only with the spread of COVID-19 have they become so sought after. Blue-chip galleries such as David Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth have begun hosting their own online exhibitions, and Art Basel Hong Kong, one of the world’s biggest art fairs, took place entirely online in March.

Ocula’s contribution to the online art world has long been impressive. As well as their Viewing Rooms, exhibitions and works from over 160 top contemporary art galleries around the planet are shared on


Written in Partnership with Ocula.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

8 Apr 2020

The Big Idea Editor