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Inspired by Italy's spontaneous singing, museums commission artists to make 'balcony art' during coronavirus crisis

Fourteen artists have been asked by the L’Internationale museum group to participate in the project, which supports artists with "quick, modest commissions"

“We were struck by the way people are still finding ways to express common desires and share emotions even though public space is so restricted," says Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbemuseum

Seven international institutions including the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid and the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven have asked artists to create works on their balconies, reflecting the lives of individuals on lockdown worldwide during the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis.

The aim of the project is to make a “visual manifestation of the balcony singing that has become so popular and uplifting in Italy”, says Manuel Borja-Villel, the director of the Reina Sofía. All of the participating institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw and MHKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, are part of L’Internationale, a confederation of museums.

Borja-Villel told Artnet News: “We have invited 14 artists initially to participate, but everybody will be included. We are asking them to create an intervention in their window, or on their balcony. They have complete artistic freedom, of course, but we are asking them to reflect on what it means to be on lockdown, and to imagine a better future. It is important to remember that human beings cannot be separated from nature, the importance of joy, and the importance of care.”

Charles Esche, the director of the Van Abbemuseum, tells The Art Newspaper: “It was important for us to find a way to support artists at this time by means of a quick, modest commission. The idea of the balcony as a form of public space seemed to us a way to ask them to tell us what life looks like for them. Of course, how they interpret this idea of public space today is up to them. We are currently inviting [the] artists and can make the names available once all are confirmed.”

Curators from the L’Internationale group, which was established in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, meet online once a week to discuss ideas, Esche adds. “In these meetings, we were struck by the way people are still finding ways to express common desires and share emotions even though public space is so restricted. To our mind this responds to one of the key values of art: to find ways to feel connected to others and recognise common experiences.”

UPDATE (9 April): Hiuwai Chu, curator at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, adds that the project initiated by L’Internationale takes the architectural features of windows and balconies as a departure point, and as a metaphor for confinement, reflecting how these extraordinary circumstances can signify a paradigm shift in many ways. "The project is also a modest way to keep cultural production going and contribute to the conversation about our current realities," Hiuwai says.

UPDATE (20 April): The participating artists are Babi Badalov, Osman Bozkurt, Simnikiwe Buhlungu, Ola Hassanain, Sanja Iveković, Siniša Labrović, Rogelio López Cuenca & Elo Vega, Kate Newby, Daniela Ortiz, Zeyno Pekünlü, Maja Smrekar, Isidoro Valcárcel Medina, Guy Woueté, Akram Zaatari, and Paweł Żukowski. From 21 April, the artists' contributions will be shared online through L'Internationale’s social media channels—@internationaleonline on Instagram—and via the websites and social media channels of L’Internationale members.