This Is Us

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By Emily Dodi

You can tell time through the history of art, explains Yessíca Torres, the founder and chief curator of Dab Art Co.

All of human experience can be traced through the brush strokes, the curves of stone or the flicker of color and light in the works of art created down through the millennia. Everything mankind has ever experienced, the good and the bad, the plagues and the wars and the love, always the love. The challenges, the victories, the heroes, the enemies and the everyday.

It’s all there. It is us.

Now, here we are in the most unprecedented of times, and contemporary art is telling our story as it happens.

“We’re in the middle of something,” says Torres, who felt compelled to act. In compliance with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, she shut the doors to Dab Art Co.’s physical locations, including galleries in Los Angeles and Mexico City as well as the H Gallery and Studios in Ventura. Like other business owners, Torres posted a statement about how her company would be dealing with the crisis, but she wanted it to be something more than boilerplate.   

“As a gallerist and artist there’s more to say than ‘we’re sanitizing the doors.’ So, I wrote an essay,” explains Torres. “I thought about times of world crises and plagues, disasters and religious movements, so many times in history that have changed art … I felt it necessary to say to artists that even if it’s the end of the world, it’s your job to document. It’s your duty.”

She also wanted people who aren’t artists to know that art would always be there for them.

In her essay, which is available at dabart.me, Torres writes, “Through such instability, artists can create an escape, inspire change and restore the human spirit. The world’s unity and restoration of hope will be accomplished through the work of muralists, sculptors, painters and photographers; as they will be the ones who observe and record the world’s truth.”

“Art is one of the most honest things,” Torres says. “You can’t argue with someone’s feelings. It’s their truth.”

The first weekend after Torres posted her essay on the Dab Art Co. website, she got so many responses the site crashed. (The glitch has since been fixed.) Torres realized that she had struck a chord, and she made a decision. “I have to do something.”

She envisioned creating what she describes as “an unconventional solution to keeping contemporary art relevant, propelling the art experience forward and promoting the valuable role artists will play in this time of global crisis.” Art in the Time of Corona™ was born.

An ambitious three-phrase global art project, Art In the Time of Corona™ is designed to “capture the real-time movement of how art is going to evolve in this time.” (The title is inspired by Love in the Time of Cholera, the classic novel by the great Gabriel García Márquez). The project’s goal, Torres writes, is to “record and exhibit (in real time) defining artwork created during civil uncertainty … and to unite viewers and help them find the sanctity, comfort and inspiration needed to heal a world in turmoil.”

Phase One of the project, which launched on March 23, is an ongoing online exhibition of “art relevant to the current global crisis.” The exhibition posts a new work every day and runs through the end of December on dabart.me. Many of the works are available for purchase on artsy.net.

Accompanying the online exhibition will be weekly YouTube videos featuring artist and guest juror interviews, project updates and highlights from the exhibition.

Phase Two will be a full-color book featuring roughly 250 works from the exhibition. The book will also include artist interviews, juror commentary and curator notes. It will be available February 2021.

Finally, Phase Three will be a multi-gallery exhibition of selected works that will take place simultaneously across all three of the Dab Art Co. galleries. Slated to open March 2021, the exhibition will include special screenings of a documentary film that chronicles the project, from beginning to end.

From the day it launched, Art in the Time of Corona™ has been going full-tilt. To the casual observer, the task of chronicling these extraordinary times as they happen may sound daunting, but Torres doesn’t seem intimidated at all.

“The project is absolutely what I look forward to every day,” she says. “I feel so thankful.”

Torres adds that this experience is re-enforcing how she feels about art. “I have built my career and bet my business on contemporary art being so important that I have to show what is happening now. I have to be on the lookout and show what’s ‘now.’ ”

That career is rooted in a lifetime filled with art. Growing up in Sacramento, Torres was exposed to art at an early age by her mother, who was an artist, and her grandmother, who owned a gallery.

“I was always going to receptions,” Torres recalls. “Obviously, I didn’t know the business, but I saw that if you got your work together you could sell it.” Torres went on to study art history in college and afterwards went to work in Northern California. Then the crash happened in 2008, causing Torres to re-evaluate.

“I lost everything and I just decided that I needed a life change.”

She moved to Ventura and lived in an apartment at Working Artists Ventura aka The WAV. In 2011, she and her former partner opened H Gallery and Studios, which enabled Torres to have individual studio spaces for herself as well as for other artists, as well as a vibrant gallery. In 2014, Torres founded Dab Art Co. to be the curating arm behind H Gallery and the galleries in L.A. and Mexico City.

Today, working from home like so many people, Torres is busy reviewing submissions from artists all over the world. “I want to get as many different perspectives as I can,” she says. Already, she has posted work by artists based in California, New York, Brazil, Canada, the U.K. and Israel. 

One of the first works that Torres chose to post as part of the project is “Emotional Landscape” by New York-based artist Kayo Albert. The abstract work reflects the chaos of the moment at the same time it steadies the gaze with beauty. The headline above the work on the site’s exhibition page reads, “Something Beautiful.” As Torres explains, “[Albert] lives in a state and city that’s been hit particularly hard by the virus; her artistic constitution drives her to continue painting. Sometimes, we just need to see something beautiful.”

Another work that stands out in the exhibition is a photo of a Los Angeles mural entitled “Cancel Plans. Not Humanity” by Corie Mattie. Part of Mattie’s L.A. Hope Dealer series, the mural depicts someone wearing a face mask and holding open their coat to reveal the word “hope.” (Los Angeles Magazine noted that Mattie is also making signs that say, “If you’re reading this, go home.”) (www.lamag.com/culturefiles/coronavirus-murals/)

“She took it to another level,” says Torres of Mattie. “I sought her out. I loved [the mural]. … She is spreading messages that are honest but positive. It’s like, we are in it right now but we’ll get through it.”

Torres explains that among all the works that will be featured in the project, “the common ground is creativity itself … So many people live so many different lives. There are so many different focuses: communication, isolation, the environment, food, science, the subconscious.” It is the quality and the concept behind a piece that matter most. “I’m always chasing the concept,” Torres says.

Among the artists that will be featured in the project, the “universal thought” will be the virus, but each one will see it differently and each artist will convey something that is at once unique and unifying.

In the end, Torres believes that art helps unite us. It also helps to define us. As much as contemporary art is about the “now” in which we all find ourselves, it will live on to tell our story to everyone who comes after us.

“Art can’t be destroyed,” Torres says. “Once it’s made, it’s made. Once the concept has been thought by an artist, it’s done. That’s why I focus on concept. Artistic thought can never be taken away. War or global pandemic can’t take it away.”

Artists from around the world are invited to submit relevant visual art of any genre. The rolling call for submissions is open until December 31. Go to: artist.callforentry.org/festivals_unique_info.php?ID=7648).

View the online exhibit at www.dabart.me/atc-exhibit-page.