Architects and Designers Weigh In on the Future of Work

By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo – 

Right now, the logistics of “going back to normal” are a mystery. We asked some prominent voices to predict what we can expect when the worst is over.

While scientists and policy makers strive to help us safely move into the next phase of this pandemic, we’re still in the thick of it and there are still many unknowns that we face. Nowhere has this lack of information been most worryingly felt than with regards to the economy and, by extension, resuming or returning to our jobs.

What is certain is that the road to recovery will be long and uncertain. Predictions for the future range from gloomy to the overly optimistic—something which has started to make us speculate on how to balance safety and normalcy over the next 18 months. What does “going back” really mean? Will more of us continue to work from home? Will we return to our offices in shifts? How will big cities handle commuting—especially when that means using public transportation? Will our requirements for office design change? Will buildings need to change?

We had so many questions, so we reached out to some leading voices in our global design community to hear their thoughts on this conversation.

Yves Béhar, Fuseproject, San Francisco

Yves Béhar of Fuseproject.

Yves Béhar of Fuseproject.

Photo courtesy of Fuseproject

I have been in the small town of Bolinas, California for six weeks now. With the entire town getting tested it feels that the level of information and social responsibility is very high. This sense of community and support gives me confidence about a future where the word “citizenry” acquires a new meaning. I am confident that the same can happen in larger cities like San Francisco; a sense of renewed confidence in what we can achieve when we look out for each other. What is needed for employees coming back to work is transparency and a common understanding of the procedures and systems in place that will keep everyone safe. This is something that every company will need to make very clear and every local government will have to support and promote. This new social cohesion is what will make the new reality something we can trust and move forward with.

"Providing a sanitary safe environment will become standard in office design, with surface materials that are anti-microbial, security robots like Cobalt (which we designed), daily deep cleans, non-touch gestural interfaces, and more personal space. Office design is always changing, and this is a new opportunity to design for maximum health: a physical and mental wellbeing approach of the most precious asset of any business—its people," shares Behar. Pictured here is Fuseproject's office before the pandemic. 

“Providing a sanitary safe environment will become standard in office design, with surface materials that are anti-microbial, security robots like Cobalt (which we designed), daily deep cleans, non-touch gestural interfaces, and more personal space. Office design is always changing, and this is a new opportunity to design for maximum health: a physical and mental wellbeing approach of the most precious asset of any business—its people,” shares Behar. Pictured here is Fuseproject’s office before the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Fuseproject

My personal realization is that working from home is possible, and even presents some advantages. Prior to the pandemic, the talk of “efficiency” was everywhere. That said, the pandemic has made it clear to me that jumping from Zoom to Zoom, albeit somewhat monotonous, is much more efficient than driving around or commuting to meetings, parking, and then looking for conference rooms. While I very much miss brainstorming and sketching with the Fuseproject team in person, a couple of days a week focused at home might be the way to get work done. The Fuseproject team has adapted remarkably well, with humor and grit which matches our pre-COVID culture. I do believe that flexibility around WFH will be the norm rather than the exception, and that accommodating people’s different needs for work-life balance will be the new normal. I think that company-wide testing may become something we see used widely. Once tested, work teams will be comfortable resuming human interactions while remaining vigilant and socially distant outside of the work safe-zone.

Lyndon Neri and Rossana Hu of Neri & Hu, Shanghai

Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri of Neri & Hu.

Rossana Hu and Lyndon Neri of Neri & Hu.

Photo courtesy of Neri & Hu

In Shanghai, the situation is quite well controlled. We are already back in the office. With the exception of a few individuals who are stuck in their home country, we have generally resumed back to normal. It’s comforting to see that this is possible, and we see it as a huge blessing given that many countries are still in lockdown mode. Shanghai reacted very quickly immediately after Wuhan’s lockdown. In February, there were drastic measures set on how to go back to work. It was extremely severe—there are quarantine measures everyone needs to abide by and travel documents that everyone needs to show. In the beginning, these extreme measures ensured that everyone back in the office building was free from the virus and that as subsequent people returned to work, they were also safe.

We may lose some freedoms because we need to show our health code (everyone has a code on their smartphones and you are allowed to enter buildings only if you have a GREEN code) and we have our temperature checked everywhere we go, but this slight inconvenience ensures that all of us are safe to be out and about, so we all willingly abide by the rules.

"We started implementing shifts for the office so that we don’t have too many people in the building all at once. We allow flexible hours so they our employees don't need to be traveling during rush hour. We see this flexibility as a positive thing, and it might remain like this for a long while," shares Neri & Hu. Here is a photo of their Shanghai office. 

“We started implementing shifts for the office so that we don’t have too many people in the building all at once. We allow flexible hours so they our employees don’t need to be traveling during rush hour. We see this flexibility as a positive thing, and it might remain like this for a long while,” shares Neri & Hu. Here is a photo of their Shanghai office.

Photo by Fangfang Tian

We think that over the next 18 months we will all get used to the social distancing and that the “virus reality” will set in and we will find ways to work and live with the “new normal.” In general, people will have much more tolerance for flexible hours and video conferencing, and travel to in-person meetings will be minimized.

Many companies might start to evaluate long-term ways to accommodate a combination of working from home and working in the office—policies which might mean that the office would serve more as a temporary gathering place for workers who need to meet, rather than the permanent place of work.

Suchi Reddy, Reddymade, New York City

Suchi Reddy of Reddymade. 

Suchi Reddy of Reddymade.
Photo by Chloe Horseman

The new world we are going to be entering will definitely need our skills as designers. Our challenges in New York City are particularly complex, given our density. The additional space required to work and social distance is a luxury that not many of us can afford in our workspaces, so working in shifts will have to be an option—and possibly one that could help working parents with childcare needs as well.

The fact that this has been such a collective experience for all of us, regardless of our fields of expertise or hierarchy in the workplace, has to inform the way we go forward across the board. It has illuminated both sides of a coin: it has shown us the things we can do on our own and the ways in which we absolutely need each other’s physical presence and input. Redefining what productivity is actually tied to will be an important metric for us to reevaluate. It’s not just hours in the office: it’s how well we use the hours we work and the support system we need. I think we will definitely see a bigger mix of remote work—even in our field where collaboration and physically experiencing things, materials, and ideas together are all crucial.

A look into Reddy's private meditation space in her New York City office. "I think the open office model, which was on its way out, maybe now be definitely weaned out of most design strategies. Screens and guards that are cleanable will become an addition to cubicles, and I think we will see a healthy cross-pollination of materials generally used in health care design with other sectors, like commercial and hospitality design," she says.

A look into Reddy’s private meditation space in her New York City office. “I think the open office model, which was on its way out, maybe now be definitely weaned out of most design strategies. Screens and guards that are cleanable will become an addition to cubicles, and I think we will see a healthy cross-pollination of materials generally used in health care design with other sectors, like commercial and hospitality design,” she says.

Photo by Seth Caplan

Until widespread testing is available, and perhaps a vaccine, we have to exercise a cautious reentry. The virus has given us a new appreciation of our public spaces and of the escape going into nature has provided many people. This experience will affect urban design, and I would not be surprised to see a greater push for parks and access to green space in buildings.

Adjusting to the new normal is something New Yorkers are good at, so I am sure we will find pleasures and innovations in our new routines. The city that never sleeps will acquire a new dimension. I dream of that while I shelter now in rural upstate New York.

Barbara Bestor, Bestor Architecture, Los Angeles

Barbara Bestor at the entrance of her Silverlake office. 

Barbara Bestor at the entrance of her Silverlake office.

Photo by Yoshihiro Makino

I am currently ‘sheltering at home’ in Silver Lake, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. I do walk over to our empty studio daily—it’s very close to my house—and love the quiet and ability to read and draw there. It also provides a good setup for conference calls, printing, etc. It will be tricky to balance staying safe and social distancing, especially in a field like architecture that thrives on personal contact. In Los Angeles, construction is an essential activity so I have been doing about one or two field site visits weekly but my staff has not. I think for small teams within our office remote working is fine, but for larger teams it is difficult to coordinate all aspects of the work.

Bestor Architecture in Silverlake. 

Bestor Architecture in Silverlake.

Photo by Yoshihiro Makino

I do think remote work will become more common, not just in architecture but in all types of work that are largely computer-based. Within our practice, we are lucky to have enough space in our physical office to give everyone a significant amount of room for their desks, but we may consider spreading people out further, creating shifts or “teams” that come into the office on a rotating schedule, and certainly encourage remote work if possible.

The great thing about cities is access to public transportation and greater access for more people to workplaces. In Los Angeles, our public transport is not as well used as some places like New York or Tokyo but we have created more bicycle commuting routes—especially for the under 5-mile commutes—and buses that are increasingly popular. The experience of using public transportation will no doubt change to decrease individual contact points with doors, payment, turnstiles, etc. and to protect drivers themselves from their passengers.

"It will be tricky to balance staying safe and social distancing, especially in a field like architecture that thrives on personal contact," says Bestor. 

“It will be tricky to balance staying safe and social distancing, especially in a field like architecture that thrives on personal contact,” says Bestor.

Photo by Yoshihiro Makino

We love to design workspaces and have already been working with several clients on contactless kitchenettes, bathrooms, and phone booths in their offices. We are adding trash cans that are foot-operated, sinks with electric eye controls, refrigerator doors that open electronically, etc. We had already moved from bench desking to individual sit-stand desks, which improves individual hygienic space control. We want to explore these ideas further to see how our innovations in design and user experience can make a positive impact on the health of a company and employees.

Thomas Robinson, Lever Architecture, Portland, Oregon

Thomas Robinson of Lever Architecture. 

Thomas Robinson of Lever Architecture.

Photo by Jeremy Bitterman 

It is a challenging question as so much has changed in such a short time that it is hard to think too far ahead or to even think of “balance” given that the state of the world has shifted so drastically. In the space of a little of over four weeks, our relationship to where we live and work has been altered profoundly. Over the last four weeks, I have spent almost all my time in my house, working remotely with the LEVER team on Zoom as we shelter in place. We have two 3D printers running 24 hours a day in our family room printing PPE face shields for first responders, with my son coordinating and delivering pickups and deliveries of equipment to local hospitals.

Lever Architecture's office is in Albina Yards, a building in North Portland that the firm also designed. 

Lever Architecture’s office is in Albina Yards, a building in North Portland that the firm also designed.

Photo by Jeremy Bitterman

I sincerely hope remote work will not be the norm as woking on Zoom is emotionally exhausting—especially creative work. That said, we understand that being inconvenienced is a very small price to pay for the greater welfare of our communities. Everything is still so up in the air it is hard to think about the future, although if we are able to return to the office, we would surely have to think about ways to work in a manner that would ensure that safe social distancing is in place. This would likely include limiting the number of people who can work in the office.  As things have been very busy over the last few years, we do not currently have the space we would need to do this with our full staff.  We would likely need to employ policies that would ensure that people would have more space.

Robinson on how he thinks the pandemic could affect office design: "Buildings have long timeframes. I am hopeful that a vaccine will make this a question that we will not need to address in earnest, but if we do, it is clear that flexibility will be paramount. I believe that the design of mechanical systems will be scrutinized and that popular energy-efficient VRV systems (that recirculate standing air with a separate dedicated outside air supply) will be a concern."

Robinson on how he thinks the pandemic could affect office design: “Buildings have long timeframes. I am hopeful that a vaccine will make this a question that we will not need to address in earnest, but if we do, it is clear that flexibility will be paramount. I believe that the design of mechanical systems will be scrutinized and that popular energy-efficient VRV systems (that recirculate standing air with a separate dedicated outside air supply) will be a concern.”

Photo by Jeremy Bitterman

Trey Trahan, Trahan Architects, New Orleans

Trey Trahan of Trahan Architects. 

Trey Trahan of Trahan Architects.
Photo courtesy of Trahan Architects

I believe that this is a moment to embrace a less physically connected world and potentially embrace other ways to connect; embracing ourselves, others, and nature. Our staff is working remotely from home and personally, I have retreated to a rural family home in Saint Francisville, Louisiana. Although I am constantly working, I am also connecting with myself and with nature. On a personal note, physically distancing from the office has also had a self-meditative feel. After many years of a fast-paced and dynamic social and work velocity, it’s been a quiet time to recharge. That said, I dearly miss the in-person interactions with my wonderful colleagues.

When asked about possible changes needed to deal with the post-COVID world, Trahan responded: "Companies and buildings will need to invest in contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. Additionally, with good ventilation being key to preventing the spread of disease, high-end climate control systems will become vitally important. Cleanliness, as it should, will reign supreme and cleaning efforts will increase dramatically. "

When asked about possible changes needed to deal with the post-COVID world, Trahan responded: “Companies and buildings will need to invest in contactless technologies to reduce disease transmission. Additionally, with good ventilation being key to preventing the spread of disease, high-end climate control systems will become vitally important. Cleanliness, as it should, will reign supreme and cleaning efforts will increase dramatically. “

Photo courtesy of Trahan Architects

I do not think that our work will become entirely remote. I think there will be a meet-in-the-middle aspect and a deeper understanding of flexibility and acceptance. In some ways, I see it as a possible liberation of a fixed and rigid experience of working in an office. Once it is safe to return to the office we will embrace the changes and shifts, evolving how and where we work. Most importantly, the health and wellbeing of our employees is what I care most about.

Abeer Sweis, SweisKloss, Santa Monica

Abeer Sweis of Santa Monica's SweisKloss.

Abeer Sweis of Santa Monica’s SweisKloss.

Photo: SweisKloss

Our design staff has been working from home since March 16th. We were very fortunate that we were already set up to do this and it was a fairly easy transition. Our construction staff is still out in the field and our design staff makes occasional visits to check on the work. We make sure that when someone needs to go into the office that there are no more than two people there at a time and everything is wiped down before we leave. At construction sites, everyone wears masks and is abiding by all the regulations. We tend to have fewer trades working at one time to ease the distancing situation.

I feel that in most industries, there will be less need for large office space, especially as people are getting more comfortable working remotely. I think office spaces will be set up to be more flexible—similar to what has been going on in the tech industry offices for some time now.

The SweisKloss office is located in Central Tower, a historic 1020-structure in downtown Santa Monica built by architect M. Eugene Durfee.

The SweisKloss office is located in Central Tower, a historic 1020-structure in downtown Santa Monica built by architect M. Eugene Durfee.

Photo: SweisKloss

I think we will be going back to the office setting sometime in the summer. I imagine setting up half the staff in the office on one day, while the other half is working from home and then alternating. Working from home can be very productive if it is combined with days in the office working with the team.

The most difficult thing for me has been being away from the natural design process—sitting around a table and sketching out ideas. Meeting with clients face-to-face to go over design is so much easier and so much more productive. However, I am always the optimist and think that this is a situation where out of crisis arises both change and opportunity.

‘It’s Liberating’: 3 Ways a Tech-Savvy Los Angeles Gallery Is Using the Lockdown Era to Leapfrog Into Future of the Global Art Market

In our first spotlight on new business models for galleries, Various Small Fires leverages technology, intimacy, and collaboration in Seoul.

Tim Schneider

Josh Kline's Reality Television 12, 2020, at Various Small Fires in Seoul, Korea. Courtesy of the Gallery.
Josh Kline’s Reality Television 12, 2020, at Various Small Fires in Seoul, Korea. Courtesy of the Gallery.

Welcome to New Models, a series that highlights galleries innovating beyond the traditional ways of exhibiting and selling art in the primary market. From forward-thinking collaborative initiatives to novel uses of technology, the concepts it unpacks prove that there are more paths to success and sustainability as an art dealer than the default settings.


Ask members of the Los Angeles arts ecosystem what they appreciate most about the city, and you’re very likely to hear praise for its atmosphere of openness and possibility. In contrast to more rigidly structured arts capitals, LA feels like one of the rare places where new ideas enter the arena with an advantage over old ones. This pioneering attitude only strengthens at a time when nearly everything inside and outside the industry is in crisis, and no gallery makes the case clearer than Various Small Fires.

Cofounded in 2012 by Esther Kim Varet and her husband, Joseph Varet, Various Small Fires set out from the beginning to do things differently. Most notably, while much of the Western art market fixated on Hong Kong and Shanghai in its pivot to East Asia, VSF (as it’s commonly known) instead embraced Kim Varet’s first-generation Korean-American heritage and opened a permanent space in Seoul in April 2019. That decision now looks even savvier than it did at the time, since Korea’s expert response to the global health crisis allowed the country and its arts-rich capital to begin responsibly reopening weeks before any other nation in the world.

With VSF’s location in Hollywood’s increasingly muscular gallery district still shuttered along with all other non-essential businesses, its Seoul space has now become the nucleus of an innovative three-part strategy that has leveraged physical space, digital engagement, and coalition-building. And this strategy’s early success is worth every dealers’ attention.

Instructional Instagram post explaining how to book a touch-free viewing at Various Small Fires, Seoul. Courtesy of Various Small Fires.

Instructional Instagram post explaining how to book a touch-free viewing at Various Small Fires, Seoul. Courtesy of Various Small Fires.

1. Online Appointments for “Touch-Free” IRL Viewings

The Concept: In the anxious days leading up to each city’s respective shutdown, VSF had begun piloting online reservations to keep its Los Angeles and Seoul galleries active—yet safe—spaces for aesthetic enrichment. Integrated into VSF’s website, the system allowed users to book a 30-minute private viewing at either location during its normal operating hours. Crucially, when a visitor arrives for their appointment, the front door is already open, and the gallery is clear of all but one (masked and gloved) employee.

Although the reservation system is on hold in Los Angeles while VSF’s space there remains closed to the public, VSF Seoul has been booking these “touch-free” IRL viewings of “Alternative Facts”—its new exhibition of Trumpism-targeting, wall-mounted cast-resin sculptures by Josh Kline—since the show opened on April 11. Each appointment is also followed by a 30-minute buffer to eliminate any possible overlap between visitors, as well as to give gallery staff enough time to thoroughly disinfect the space before the next reservation.

The Advantages: VSF’s artists get to continue exhibiting; visitors get VIP treatment; and the gallery gets to continue showing and selling, with maximum peace of mind for all involved. The online bookings also give staff the opportunity to prepare materials and brush up on vital information in advance of the arrival of collectors, curators, and other key figures who might otherwise have dropped in unannounced during a calmer era.

The Results: Kim Varet says the private-booking system was received enthusiastically in Los Angeles and Seoul prior to the crisis, but it has been especially popular since the debut of Kline’s show, which was synced perfectly with Korea’s relaxation of social-distancing guidelines. “By the time we rolled it out there,” she told Artnet News, “people were ready to come out [of isolation].”

She relays that museum directors, major curators, and collectors have all visited in the weeks since. And perhaps most importantly, all but one of Kline’s works had found buyers by publication time, with the last on hold for a corporate collection in Seoul.

Josh Kline, detail view of Reality Television 12, 2020. Courtesy Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.

Josh Kline, detail view of Reality Television 12, 2020. Courtesy Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.

2. Zoom Tours and Proactive Digital Outreach

The Concept: For those who aren’t physically in Seoul (or who aren’t ready for an in-person visit just yet) VSF is now also providing 30-minute virtual walkthroughs of Kline’s exhibition via the now-ubiquitous video-conferencing software Zoom. The remote tours can be booked through the same page on the gallery’s website as the traditional private viewings, but up to 10 concurrent viewers can take part.

While the walkthroughs are not elaborate productions—they consist of a lone cameraperson shooting a tour led by a single VSF Seoul staff member—the gallery designs them in close collaboration with the featured artist. Kline, for example, wanted to ensure that remote viewings of “Alternative Facts” highlighted the wall mounts and wraparound detailing of each sculpture almost as much as the frontal view. He also communicated critical themes and talking points about specific works during multiple rehearsal sessions in the days leading up to the opening.

The Context: The Zoom appointments are just one component of a larger campaign to make digital engagement one of VSF’s core competencies. The effort shifted into high gear when the gallery hired Hilde Lynn Helphenstein (AKA art-world meme champion Jerry Gogosian) as its first digital director earlier this spring. Her overarching mandate is to use a variety of platforms and initiatives to make VSF as adept at the social-media game as the best dealers are at IRL social functions. “Nothing will ever replace viewing art in person, but technology is our best prosthesis for this,” Helphenstein told Artnet News. “So we want the most technologically advanced prosthesis, not a peg leg.” 

The Advantages: The benefits of the virtual walkthroughs transcend the most obvious one here in the age of social distancing. In the past, Kim Varet says, the gallery would primarily have tried to interest local and regional contacts in Kline’s exhibition at VSF Seoul. No longer. “Now people are preconditioned to do these remote viewings, and we can open it up to a wider audience.” If the Zoom tours carry on past the end of the shutdown, as Kim Varet and her team hope, the associated reduction in flights and drives to the physical gallery will also further reduce VSF’s carbon footprint—a major goal for a business whose LA location is already 100 percent solar-powered.

The Results: The Zoom press preview attracted art writers from New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and a VIP walkthrough held the following week consisted of not only a mix of local and international collectors and advisors, but also board members at premier stateside institutions, including the Whitney and LACMA.

The facade of Various Small Fires in Seoul, South Korea. Courtesy of Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.

The facade of Various Small Fires in Seoul, South Korea. Courtesy of Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, and Seoul.

3. Ongoing International Gallery Shares

The Concept: At least until the crisis is over (but possibly longer), Kim Varet plans to alternate the Seoul space’s programming between a VSF show and a show in partnership with a dealer based outside of Korea. In the latter case, VSF and the visiting gallery split all costs and profits associated with the exhibition.

The Context: Kim Varet regards forming and strengthening alliances with her peers as a key strand of VSF’s DNA. The trait also manifests in VSF’s presence on the operating committee of GalleryPlatform.LA, the recently announced online-sales platform jointly presented by 60 Los Angeles dealers. This perspective quickly came to the fore when she recounts her thought process about the gallery’s good fortune in Korea: “It’s awesome for us that we have Seoul open again. It’s a silver lining most galleries don’t have right now. So how do we share that with other dealers and collaborators going through a similarly traumatic period in their business careers?”

The Advantages: The long-acknowledged but under-utilized reality is that every dealer is only as strong as their coalition. “The idea that needs to change is that every gallery is its own island,” says Kim Varet.

VSF Seoul’s collaborative programming doesn’t just allow the gallery to deepen its relationships with its peers on the sell side; by extension, it also connects VSF to the artists, collectors, and other contacts those peers bring in. And since VSF is incentivized to promote the partnered exhibitions as enthusiastically as its own, the visiting dealer benefits from Kim Varet’s local and regional network too. Those bonds can propel everyone involved into new opportunities in the future.

The Results: VSF has already agreed to host multiple international dealers. The first collaboration will be with New York’s Karma, which will debut a two-person exhibition by Henni Alftan and Dike Blair in July. Respected Berlin gallerist Johann König will follow this fall.

König also proves how quickly one mutually beneficial exchange can create a virtuous cycle. He told Artnet News that, upon reopening his gallery on April 21, visitors would enjoy an online-booking system for private viewings that was inspired by VSF—and enabled by Kim Varet’s willingness to volunteer the technological details of its own reservation system. (Incidentally, König added that he reached out to Kim Varet after being impressed by her appearance on our podcast, The Art Angle.)

“I think she’s really at the forefront of young dealers in terms of how collaborative and [open to] sharing she is,” König told Artnet News.

Esther Kim Varet, cofounder of Various Small Fires. Courtesy of Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.

Esther Kim Varet, cofounder of Various Small Fires. Courtesy of Various Small Fires, Los Angeles and Seoul.

What Comes Next?

The changes VSF has incorporated are already leading to others. König returned the online-booking favor by directing his teach team to give VSF guidance on how to build a real-time chat tool on its website, which Kim Varet’s team had wanted to implement early on but couldn’t quite execute independently. That move will further VSF’s transition away from email—she notes that it’s long been treated as “a very snail-mail kind of correspondence” in Asian countries—and toward direct messaging on various platforms as the gallery’s primary communication interface.

In contrast to the roughly 10-week-minimum exhibitions held at VSF Seoul in 2019, Kim Varet says the gallery is also tentatively planning on shortening its Korean shows to one month each starting in June—a shift she attributes to the changing expectations of artists in an increasingly on-demand economy. And while it would be naive to assume these are the only evolutions the gallery will undergo, one certainty is that this brave new model is driving VSF in the right direction.

“For a while,” Kim Varet says, “we were held back by art-world tradition. It’s liberating to feel like we’re heading towards the art world we’ve always wanted to be in.”

Best Of: protective partition screens for the post-pandemic workspace


Has the cubicle been resurrected from its 20th-century resting place? Perhaps too soon to say with certainty, but with the precautions and measures necessary to prevent COVID-19 transmission, it’s likely. Pallavi Dean is one of those in camp cubicle: the designer told Frame that she believes they will be central elements in the reconfigured workspace. ‘Partitions are really hot right now,’ Ben Waber of Humanyze told Wired. In the same article, Cushman & Wakefield’s Michael Boonshoft explained that the relative efficiency and affordability of these divider solutions will make them favourable among companies scrambling to rethink their offices for the safety of their employees.

But this doesn’t mean that workers that emerge from home quarantines are resigned to a sure future of drab grey blockades and inevitable claustrophobia. In fact, the privacy-promising, acoustic-friendly and design-forward elements that studios and brands are presently introducing have a potential to actually upgrade pre-pandemic workspaces. Here are seven great examples.


Room Dividers by Dutch Invertuals for High Tech Software Cluster / Brainport Innovation Campus; Photos: Ronald Smits


DV300-Screen by DVO;


Sepa Rolls by Sezgin Aksu for Caimi Brevetti; Photo: Victor Zastol’skiy


Ridge by Arktura;


Caring System by Estel;


Hinoki by Federica Biasi for Manerba;


COV by Matteo Cibic Studio in collaboration with FusinaLab;


Stella McCartney Responds to the Crisis: “I Want to be Completely Recycling, Completely Circular, Completely Environmental”

Stella McCartney with her horse Summer in the grounds of her English country housePhoto: Courtesy of Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney founded her eponymous brand in 2001. She submitted a self portrait and was interviewed for Vogue’s June/July portfolio. Her conversation with Hamish Bowles has been condensed and edited.

That’s my horse, Summer—I think there’s a level of emotional support from animals right now. It’s the place where I feel most calm and inspired when I’m riding my horse: it’s a precious, rare moment, and I’ve been able to ride more the last couple of weeks than I ever normally get to ride, so that’s my moment where I find my peace and calm. There’s so much noise in my daily life, so I don’t always see with clarity why I do what I do, not with the intensity that I do right now.

As a working parent I’ve always wanted to just be living in the country with my kids and my horse and just being a mom and everything that involves, and cooking … I’m so blessed.

It’s funny the idea of isolation, because all my friends essentially are creatives, and the majority of them are isolated every day when they work—I’m calling Urs Fisher, William Eggleston, Olafur [Eliasson], and these are all people that go into their studio and work in relative isolation.

When I think of my dad [Paul McCartney], I think of all of my musician friends, or sculptors, or musicians, or dancers, the birth of the creative moment is quite a moment of solitude, an insular moment. And I think it’s interesting for me because all of a sudden I’m getting back to the beginning of what made me want to be a fashion designer. When I was at Saint Martins, I used to sit on my own and design. And I guess the industry that we work in now relies on the rhythm of production. Now I’m finding myself getting back to that moment, the birth of it all, and it’s an interesting moment.

My company, like every other company that provides a product right now, is really having to buckle down and focus on the business and survival. I’ve got a million Zoom calls a day, and I’ve got to keep some form of structure and clarity and process in place. My headspace is in a more enclosed area. One side of me wants business as normal right now, but it would be amazing if something could come of this that had a deeper impact.

We’re all having calls with 100 people from different regions, and we didn’t do that before, and that gives me hope. Out of this, we’re connecting in a very different way, but we’re connecting in a deeper way, and certainly more globally. And I’ve been FaceTiming with so many different generations of people, reconnecting, in a sense—with William Eggleston, Sheila Hicks, Peter Blake. I do think of the older community; I think there’s hope to come of it, where we all go that little bit deeper into the meaning of life.

It’s interesting for me because my brand’s core value system is very much one of connectivity—to nature, to the fellow creatures, to the process. I’m probably one of the few fashion houses that’s been thinking this way from day one, so now, all of a sudden, to see this kind of shutdown globally, and how we’re all so connected, it’s not terribly dissimilar to how I’ve always thought, so I guess for me the hope I find is out of all of this suffering and nihilism comes an idea of connectivity, more consciousness with the consumer, some more mindfulness on how we got here, how we treat our fellow creatures, how we act in kindness, how we not just fall back into the same place.

I think that everyone wants this to have a positive change effect, and I’ve been hoping for a positive change effect for my entire career, so I have a level of hope that out of this can come something meaningful. Since I was a child, I’ve always believed in people more than the people who are in places of leadership. At an early age I was on tour, I would be in crowds of hundreds of thousands of people being affected by my parents’ music, and I’ve always had a reaction to people, the power of people uniting, and I think that this is a moment for people.

It’s not really changed the way I think, it’s just maybe made me realize the level of importance of everything I do create, and having a little more time is a massive luxury—in our industry, it’s something we don’t have. It’s moments like this that make you question what you do and why you do it, but I feel really excited that I feel we have a relevance—I’ve felt really proud of the Stella McCartney brand for having meaning and having something more to it, and that has given me a level of inspiration—having more focus on what I am creating and why I am creating it. And I’ve said to all my teams, that it would be a real disservice if we didn’t come out of this moment with a deeper level of thought as to what we do and why we make it and how we make it.

Even before I started the spring collection, before this had even happened, I decided not to buy fabric. I just want to work with all of our leftover stock and I want to be completely recycling, completely circular, completely environmental. I don’t want to order in one thing. I’ve already thought that way for many years.

So what it’s done for me on a personal level, which reflects then into my business, is it’s heightened my sensitivity to who I am and what I believe in and why I do what I do. I mean I’m a very “waste not, want not” character, and so now I’m cooking every meal and I’m feeding every mouth in the house and not one scrap has been thrown away.

Home, soothing home

A collage of images of a beach house: A living room with white walls, a layered flokati rug, and rattan ottoman; a bathroom with beige tiles in the shower and gold fixtures; a bedroom with a black-and-white shag rug, tapestry of a figure, and bed with linen sheets.

What science, color psychology, and interior designers tell us about creating a comforting space


Avacation home is doing its job when you step inside and say, “Ahhh.” For a getaway in Montauk, New York, interior designer Robert McKinley achieved that sensibility to the letter. The McKinley Bungalow Fairview—a 1970s ranch house he transformed into an Airbnb rental—is defined by a serene open-plan living space with natural wood floors and a tall, exposed-beam ceiling painted white. The minimalist house is furnished with comfortable sofas, oiled-wood chairs and tables, thick rugs, tapestries, hand-formed ceramics, and antiques. It’s tailormade for rest and relaxation, to comfort and soothe. A sister property, the McKinley Bungalow Federal, uses a similar approach.

One room in each bungalow feels especially cozy compared to the rest of the space. McKinley created a retreat-within-the-retreat feeling by painting the walls and ceilings in dark, rich colors. In Federal, he chose a deep green. In Fairview, it’s a rich, earthy terra-cotta red hue; the floor is carpeted wall-to-wall in seagrass, a coarse natural fiber almost like jute, layered with a soft vintage Moroccan rug; and the built-in daybed is covered in off-white linen and earth-tone pillows.

“The rest of the house is white and bright and airy and beachy and fresh, and that’s relaxing in that way,” McKinley says. “But what if you’re not in that mood? What if you want to be cocooned in a color you feel comfortable in, that makes you warm?”

While no one is planning beach getaways at the moment, that desire for a warm feeling has never been stronger than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Right now, there is a collective aching for comfort, for soothing coping mechanisms to alleviate anxiety, grief, and overwhelming emotions wrought by the new coronavirus and its ripple effects through society: comfort bakingcomfort shopping, eating comfort foods, and to find more comfort at home through the objects that surround us, like the textiles and decor items at the McKinley bungalow.

We’ve always asked a lot from our homes—to provide shelter, to reflect our personality, to offer financial security, to give a sense of belonging—but the COVID-19 pandemic is demanding even more. Seemingly overnight, they’ve become makeshift offices, schools, gyms, and even nightclubs. Importantly, shelter-in-place and social-distancing orders have turned homes into medicine to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus, affirming that housing is health care and amplifying the longstanding issues of chronic homelessness, the affordable housing shortage, and unsafe and overcrowded living conditions.

If you are fortunate enough to have a home, you might also be thinking about ways it can become a more potent source of mental health care during these particularly trying times. Creating a space that is truly comforting and soothing requires more than reaching for the quick fix of a cozy pillow and blanket, as helpful as they are; it’s about tapping into sensibilities that speak to our deepest and most essential needs on a physical and psychological level.

While trends change, designing man-made environments to positively impact health and wellbeing is far from new. The ancient Roman engineer Vitruvius theorized about ideal and harmonious proportions in architecture and these ideals were revived during the Renaissance. In the 1860s, the pioneering nurse Florence Nightingale theorized that spaces that were very clean and had fresh air, bright sunlight, pure water, and sanitation infrastructure (which she called “drainage”) had nurturing and therapeutic effects on patients.

Today, the concept of “healing environments” is common parlance in health care. Meanwhile, scientific research on the bodily and psychological effects of interior design has backed up some of the theories of architects and health care workers like Nightingale.

“Most people think about aesthetic experience as amorphous and emotional,” says Sarah Williams Goldhagen, an architectural critic and historian, and author of the recent book Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, which explores architecture through the lens of science. “What’s become clear is that even though it feels that way, science, psychology, and studies of behavior can tell us a lot of things about aesthetic experience.”

While everyone has their own taste, it’s human nature to want and need certain things in our living spaces. As Goldhagen explores in her book, and explains to Curbed, the way most people respond to their environments happens subconsciously. What we sense—through sight, hearing, touch, and smell—factors into this response. Our brains constantly process information, seek cognitive stimulation, look for patterns, and try to create order.

A collage of images of a sitting room with green walls and ceiling, hanging brass lamps, turned-wood tables, and white linen sofas; a bedroom with terra-cotta walls and ceilings, straw hats hanging on the wall, a bentwood chair, and linen daybed.
Robert McKinley created cocoon-like rooms in his vacation bungalows using rich earth-toned hues. The finish is limewash, which he likes for its textured effect.
 Nicole Franzen

To understand what brings us comfort and puts us at ease in a room, Goldhagen offers a few guiding concepts: Too much emptiness causes stress levels to rise. Spaces that are disorganized or chaotic also cause stress. Organized complexity, like the fractal patterns often found in nature, are soothing. The right temperature of light at the right time of day is essential for regulating our circadian rhythms and helping us sleep better. Texture is very important to calming the mind since the act of looking at something stimulates the same sensations as interacting with it.

“We are imaginatively interacting with the environment at all times, and the richer those stimulations are, the better you’re going to feel,” she says.

This holds true in Robert McKinley’s bungalows. The layering of weathered antiques; natural materials like wood, marble, and linen; and handmade furnishings in the spaces he designs is about using texture to speak to our subconscious. There’s a visually enticing tactility to them.

“It’s things that make me feel comfortable—objects that you want to touch, that you want to be next to,” he says. “When things are too smooth and too slick, they don’t have as much soul and they’re not as comforting. As humans, we all have flaws and imperfections and when the things around us have that too, it feels relatable… We let our guard down.”

Texture is also one of the most important elements of a comforting space to Suchi Reddy, an architect based in New York. And right now, amid social-distancing and stay-at-home orders, she believes it’s even more important, as people are not able to have as much physical contact as they want.

She recently participated in a webinar for People in Places, a speaking series about the relationship between humans and space, about designing for solitude, recommending exploring texture to create feelings of comfort. “It could be something so smooth you want to touch it, something softly reflective that bounces light,” she says.

In her own home, a 375-square-foot Manhattan studio she calls her sanctuary, Reddy prioritized texture by layering shades of cream and white in different materials. “It’s not sterile,” she says. “The tone-on-tone feeling bounces light and makes me comfortable—and I have a comfortable sofa.”

Filling our homes with items that invite us to touch them is an intuitive reaction to the desire for comfort. It’s something people have done a lot in recent years. Rounder furniture and more haptic upholstery and fabrics were popular well before the pandemic.

ABC Carpet & Home, a furnishings store in New York, has seen more sales of textiles, sofas, and rugs since stay-at-home orders began to be issued (children’s toys and flatware had the highest increases in sales, and a spokesperson declined to offer exact statistics). Colleen Newell, ABC Carpet & Home’s, executive vice president, also suggests purchasing items that are ethically produced and sourced as a way to add another layer of comfort. If you must consume, at least do it consciously. “It’s important to feel good about the pieces you invest in for your home—that they’re good for the planet and also bring you personal joy,” she says.

A collage of a bedroom wth a wood bed, gray rug, knitted pillows, and a cozy throw; a living room filled with plants and a thick gray rug; an office with floor-to-ceiling windows, a leafy living wall, a wood conference table, and gray armchairs
The furniture rental service Fernish has seen more people order textiles and home decor; some of their products are in the top left and bottom left images. IA Interior Architects often uses biophilic design techniques to make its spaces more soothing, like the living wall in a New York City office shown at right.
 Courtesy Fernish (left top and bottom); Eric Laignel, courtesy IA Interior Architects (right)

Fernish, a furniture rental service, has seen a 30 percent jump in the number of orders that include home decor objects—like artwork, pillows, lamps, throws, and rugs—and orders that only have these types of items in them. Before the stay-at-home order, that was a rarity.

“Since customers are home all day, they’re looking to add the little things that make their spaces more comfortable,” says Michael Barlow, co-founder of Fernish. “People want to be happy at home, or as happy as they can be during this difficult period.”

Finding simple ways to enjoy their time at home more and create soothing rituals has been a focus for Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, founders of the New York-based design firm Roman & Williams. Since the stay-at-home order was issued, they have been tending to their plants, resoaping their wood furniture, lighting scented candles, and cooking more.

“Bring nature in, light a candle, cook something that smells good,” Standefer and Alesch advise. “The ritual of setting a beautiful table and having something nourishing is calming. It shows you have not given up, and it’s a salve against fear and anxiety.”

Diane Rogers, a San Francisco-based architect and a senior strategist at IA Interior Architects, specializes in workspace design, where a common challenge is making people feel like they are flourishing, which increases happiness and productivity. In order to do that, she looks at how our bodies and brains process sensory information. She frames the challenge of creating calming and relaxing interiors through the lens of safety.

“None of us feel safe right now,” she says. “If you’re looking at how to make an environment that’s calming, comforting, and relaxing, you’re looking to use the things that signal to our brains that we are safe.”

The way you trick your body into feeling like you’re safe, Rogers says, is to provide a connection to nature. Multiple studies have shown that nature promotes healing and has therapeutic effects on people. Being in natural landscapes has been shown to reduce stress and mental fatigue. One landmark paper from 1984, which catalyzed the contemporary healing environments movement, found that patients recovering from surgery healed faster when they faced a window looking into a nature scene than patients who had a view of a wall. Even houseplants have positive effects on mood; some doctors are now prescribing houseplants to treat anxiety. A recent study found that looking at houseplants for a little as three minutes can reduce stress levels. Listening to the sounds of water has also been shown to reduce stress.

Rogers often uses biophilic design techniques—meaning exposure to natural light, air, water, plants, and landscapes and using images of nature, natural colors, and naturalistic shapes in a space—to achieve that sensibility. One of the most important things? Mimicking the sunlight, which changes warmth during the day. It’s cooler and bluer in the morning and becomes warmer and more golden through the day, which helps set circadian rhythms that tell our bodies when to sleep. Typical artificial lighting doesn’t do that, and in fact often does the exact opposite, especially when it comes to light from phone and computer screens.

A room painted blue with a Windsor bench; a dining room painted green with a round white table, blonde-wood chairs, and marble mantle; an entryway painted green with a wood occasional table featuring ceramic vases with plants in them and a jute basket
For a soothing home, Farrow & Ball recommends using blue and green paint, like its Ultra Marine Blue (left), Sap Green (center), and Duck Green (right).
 Courtesy Farrow & Ball

“We spend so much time on screens with the wrong intensity, the wrong color, and the wrong time of day,” Rogers says. “We’re sending mixed signals and surprise surprise, we can’t sleep.”

If you’re not in the market for houseplants or new lighting, there is a very effective fix you can do right now: organizing and cleaning. A clutter-free and orderly space is also important for creating a sense of calm, according to Rogers.

“Creating a sense of composition in your space visually dials into how your body and brain respond to your environment so you can see a sense of order,” she says. “Understanding what’s in your space quickly is what would make you survive in the past. If it was so visually complex that you couldn’t see the snake that would strike you, you wouldn’t survive. Giving your brain a break is a way to relax the body as well.”

Rogers has followed much of her own advice in her 600-square-foot studio apartment in San Francisco. The space is minimalist, with white walls, wood floors, and dark wood finishes, but she’s filled the interior with as many houseplants as possible—she’s even temporarily adopted all of her office’s plants due to stay-at-home orders—and has done the same with an outdoor courtyard her space opens into.

“We’re inundated with plants,” Rogers says. “For me, that combination makes sense: Have a relatively simple space and fill it with life.”

Bringing the qualities of nature indoors is a longstanding design technique that people have been increasingly gravitating toward, particularly where it relates to color. In January, the British paint company Farrow & Ball announced nature-based greens and browns as the key colors of 2020. While green is a perennially popular color, it has been selling more than usual for the past three years.

“Obviously we’ve had an interesting couple of years here in the EU,” says Patrick O’Donnell, International Brand Ambassador at Farrow & Ball. “I think just the world’s felt like it’s been in flux for quite a while, so everybody wants something a little bit nostalgic, a little bit comforting. [After the financial crisis of 2008], everybody was doing gray interiors and that felt too clinical, too formal. I think everybody wanted something that felt right and safe and nostalgic and that’s why you get these colors of nature coming into the thought process while decorating now.”

Over the past couple of decades, new fields of study have emerged that attempt to explain and understand human perception, like cognitive neuroscience. This type of research has been applied by academics and practitioners curious about the non-culturally constructed reasons why we like art—which includes performing arts, music, fine art, and architecture—in a field known as neuroaesthetics, a term coined in 1999 by the neuroscientist Semir Zeki. In 2003, researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies formed the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture to study how humans respond to man-made environments.

While cognitive neuroscience, neuroaesthetics, and neuroarchitecture are still very experimental—and scientists still only know a tiny fraction of how the brain works—this research has led to a deeper understanding of how humans experience the natural and built environment. There is skepticism in the scientific community about how much of our aesthetic responses can really be biologically explained since we are acculturated since birth. According to some experts, however, there is a lot that neuroscience can explain about why certain environments make us feel calm.

A collage of a living room with textured walls, a wool tapestry, dim lighting, wood floors, and gray sofas; a living room with gradient wallpaper, orange poufs, blue sofas, and a pastel pink rug
For Google’s “A Space for Being” exhibition, architect Suchi Reddy created rooms that were based on neuroaesthetics. 
Courtesy Maremosso

Neuroaesthetics was the subject of an installation by Google and Suchi Reddy at the Milan Furniture Fair last year. Visitors to “A Space for Being” spent time exploring three rooms, all designed to be calming but with different visual expressions, while wearing sensors that measured heart rate, breathing rate, skin temperature, skin conductivity, and movement. “There are some basic things that happen in our brains and bodies when exposed to certain stimuli,” Reddy says. “Spaces that are detailed stimulate certain neurons.”

The first room was inspired by cave homes, with stucco walls, a ceiling that curves where it meets the walls, earth-toned furniture, warm lighting, wood floors, and a large tapestry woven from wool. The second room was done up in brighter pastel furniture, gradient wallpaper, and polished concrete floors. The third room was mostly black and white, but had marble-tile walls with a textured surface. Google didn’t save user data on which room was more soothing than the others, but the first room was intended to be more relaxing.

When Reddy designs a space, she uses an intuitive approach of “form follows feeling,” a sensibility she developed well before she first learned of neuroaesthetics 10 years ago and one that feels especially useful for us today.

“For me, ‘form follows feeling’ is a more authentic place to design from versus following a trend superficially,” she says. “It feels specious to run after things versus understanding how they are supposed to deliver an experience.”

While color trends and furniture trends come and go, we all know, on some level, how we want our homes to make us feel. Thinking of design as a means to an end versus and end in and of itself—ahem, the Instagram aesthetic—is timeless, especially when it comes to what makes us, as individuals, feel comfortable.

This 81-year-old was L.A.’s most devoted museum-goer until COVID-19 shuttered cultural institutions

L.A.'s most devoted museum fan, 81-year-old Ben Barcelona

L.A.’s most devoted museum fan, Ben Barcelona, is stuck at home while all the museums are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
APRIL 23, 2020

Last July, on a brilliantly sunny morning, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s outdoor plaza was teeming with visitors. The buildings on LACMA’s campus were about to open, and 80-year-old Ben Barcelona was at the ready. It was a Thursday and Barcelona is always one of the first visitors to step inside on Thursdays.

In a striped Oxford, jeans and running sneakers, a floral tote slung over his shoulder, Barcelona cut through the crowd playfully snapping selfies at the museum’s “Urban Light” installation. He rushed past a bustling coffee cart, stopping at the Broad Contemporary Art Museum building, where he hovered by its locked doors.

Barcelona checked the time on his cellphone, the back of which revealed a virtual portal into his life: layers of colorful museum membership stickers — the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hammer Museum, LACMA, he belongs to them all.

“It’s 10:58. The doors are gonna open in a minute!” Los Angeles’ most devoted museum-goer announced, his sense of urgency transparent.

For eight years the retired architect, who immigrated to Los Angeles from the Philippines in 1969, had been visiting a different art museum, gallery or public art installation every day of the week, rarely, if ever, deviating from his routine. MOCA on Mondays, the Broad on Tuesdays, the Hammer on Wednesdays, LACMA on Thursdays, the Getty on Fridays. On Saturdays he made the rounds at “museum quality” galleries; on Sundays, he visited the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, a building he considers an artwork unto itself. On national holidays when museums are closed, he visited public artworks. He’d never taken a sick day from art, he said.

Barcelona’s admittedly obsessive routine has not only kept him mentally engaged and physically fit, he said, but it has provided him an “out-of-the-house living room,” an escape from the cramped Koreatown apartment he shares with two roommates. It has also provided an emotional lifeline. The city’s museum workers — gallery attendants, security guards, educators, ticket booth clerks, retail staff and others — have been like family to him; the artworks and the institutions themselves, his greatest source of comfort and inspiration, his oxygen.

“The museum is my home,” Barcelona said on that July morning. “The whole place, it keeps me alive.”

The back of Ben Barcelona’s phone, which features layers of museum membership stickers, a testament to his devotion.

The back of Ben Barcelona’s phone, which features layers of museum membership stickers.
(Deborah Vankin / Los Angeles Times)
Ben Barcelona considers work in the exhibition “John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction” at LACMA in 2017.

Ben Barcelona considers artwork in the exhibition “John McLaughlin Paintings: Total Abstraction” at LACMA in 2017.
(Courtney Atienza)


Barcelona has lived in Los Angeles for 49 years, a city he cherishes for the quality of its light. He met and married his wife here; their daughter, Kristina, was born here; he worked for five different architecture firms here, helping to design shopping malls and department stores.

Then in 1992 Barcelona’s wife, Divina, died from lupus. He switched gears, taking a less demanding job so he could spend more time caring for his 8-year-old daughter. While he grieved, he made monthly pilgrimages to LACMA to visit George de La Tour’s “The Magdalen With the Smoking Flame,” to his eye the single most beautiful painting in the museum. The flickering candlelight and wisp of smoke, the draping, velvety shadows, engulfed him.

The painting was an altar of healing. It reminded him that “there is beauty, but there is also ending. That life is temporary. Young or old, you never know.”

Georges de La Tour’s “The Magdalen With the Smoking Flame,” Ben Barcelona’s favorite artwork at LACMA. The painting helped him heal after his wife died in 1992.

Georges de La Tour’s “The Magdalen With the Smoking Flame,” Ben Barcelona’s favorite artwork at LACMA.
(Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

When he retired at 73, Barcelona began his daily museum-going ritual. His multi-year art odyssey was uninterrupted until the middle of March, when the coronavirus outbreak forced nearly every cultural institution in California to shutter its doors.

The void in his life is palpable, but his spirit is indomitable.

“Oh, my God, this coronavirus…” Barcelona says late last month, as he answers the phone. “And the museums are all closed! And there’s no toilet paper!”

Barcelona is self-quarantining, getting by on fast food and sandwiches he makes at home. “But I’m doing all right,” he says, oddly calm. “It’s our new reality.”

He’s filling the museum vacuum by poring over books about art in his bedroom — currently “The History of Modern Art” and a book about MOCA architect Arata Isozaki — and watching interviews with artists on YouTube via an old iPad.

Hammer Museum curator Aram Moshayedi has emailed Barcelona, sending materials to read and listen to as sustenance. “His routine, all these museums, suddenly taken out from under him,” Moshayedi says. “Just to imagine how he’d be spending his days — I was definitely concerned.”

Barcelona misses chatting with the millennials he meets on his outings, “like-minded people” who make him feel young; he misses the texture of original works on canvas; he misses untitled paintings, because they mirror his open-minded thinking; he misses riding the bus to museums where, as a member, he bypasses admission fees; he misses the skylights at the Broad and the Getty Center’s architecture, where even the tree-pruning is artful.

Barcelona’s fitness tracker no longer boasts roughly 18,000 steps a day either, as it did when he was on his museum-going regimen. But he still takes daily walks in his neighborhood, hand sanitizer stuffed in his pocket.

“I see people looking depressed, stressed, as I walk,” he says. “But, you know, it’s living art.”

Ben Barcelona, right, on one of his daily walks through Koreatown, several days after Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered Californians to shelter at home.

Ben Barcelona, right, on one of his daily walks through Koreatown, several days after Californians were ordered to shelter at home.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)


If museums are town squares of sorts, refuges for the culturally curious and those seeking shared spaces and connections, then Barcelona is one of those town characters whom everyone knows.

Last October, during one of Barcelona’s Wednesday morning visits to the Museum of Contemporary Art, he was quickly greeted by a security guard who said: “You again! Hey, man. How are you?”

Moments later, when a passerby asked the guard: “Where’s the bathroom?” Barcelona jumped into the conversation, pointed and answered: “Oh, across there and downstairs.” It was not intended as an affront— the man simply knows his way around.

Barcelona was there to see “With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art 1972-1985,” an exhibition he would visit over 19 consecutive Mondays. His museum trips are short and focused, no more than an hour and a half, but he returns to exhibitions over and over again “until I fully understand,” he said. “I become familiar with the brushstrokes, the color, I go inside — it’s not just seeing once and it’s done.”

His repeat visits, over prolonged periods, have given him a unique bird’s-eye view of the contemporary museum world.

Meandering through the exhibition, Barcelona was animated as he made connections between artists, works and institutions. Observations — and bits of gossip — flowed steadily, unprompted.

Hurrying into the gallery: “These artists who do patterns and decorations, it’s like a revolt against the minimalists!”

Rounding a corner: “Oh, that’s Frank Stella. You can tell by the shapes and the forms.”

Pausing under an exit sign, his voice hushed: “Klaus, now, he’s trying to innovate,” referring to MOCA director Klaus Biesenbach. “Remember [former director] Philippe Vergne and curator Helen Molesworth were always fighting? Klaus, he’s different.”

‘I want to live my life fully, to love fully, instead of just existing. I try to enjoy every moment — and those moments, for me, are understanding art.’


A female gallery attendant noticed Barcelona and headed over. “Everyone knows Ben!” she said, tossing an arm over his shoulder. He stood stiffly, arms at his side — but he was grinning.

These interactions, for Barcelona, are part of the art experience.

“Life is art, it’s connections,” he said. “I want to live my life fully, to love fully, instead of just existing. I try to enjoy every moment — and those moments, for me, are understanding art.”

Then he tossed his head back and let out a quack-like laugh, adding: “And what else would I do — go to the mall?!”


Ben Barcelona suits up in a parka and rubber gloves — DIY protective gear against the coronavirus — readying for a walk through Koreatown to his daughter’s apartment on his 81st birthday.

Ben Barcelona suits up in a parka and rubber gloves, readying for a walk through Koreatown to his daughter’s apartment on his 81st birthday.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

On a recent Sunday, Barcelona awakens at 4 a.m. — a daily habit — and eats a light breakfast while reading about art in his bedroom. It is March 22, his 81st birthday.

The city is quiet, with swaths of typically dense urban areas nearly deserted. Barcelona, who was once a chain smoker (he quit in 1971), says he is not fearful of the respiratory virus that has claimed the lives of so many elderly people. He won’t stay inside all day, not on his birthday.

After livestreaming the 10 a.m. church service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, he heads out on a walk to his daughter’s studio apartment, about 30 minutes away on foot. They plan to share Thai takeout sitting more than six feet from each other.

Ben Barcelona en route to his daughter’s Koreatown apartment. The typically bustling urban neighborhood is largely deserted as Californians shelter at home for fear of catching the coronavirus.

Ben Barcelona en route to his daughter’s Koreatown apartment through what is typically a bustling urban neighborhood.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Wearing white rubber gloves and an olive parka, the hood pulled tightly around his head and fastened across his nose and mouth to form a DIY respiratory mask, Barcelona sets out on foot, a lone spot of movement on an eerily empty Western Avenue.

He troops past the darkened noodle houses, the abandoned hair and nail salons, the empty karaoke clubs and vacant seafood restaurants. Past the corner trash dumpsters overflowing with empty pizza boxes and grease-stained Chinese food containers. Past the barefoot, homeless woman in frayed shorts pushing a shopping cart stuffed with her belongings. Past the museum banners, flipping in the wind on Beverly Boulevard, advertising the California Science Center’s now-paused “The Art of the Brick” Lego exhibition. Past the 9-year-old girl gliding across a laundromat parking lot on her scooter, a surgical mask secured on her face as helicopters circle above.

Colorful graffiti murals on the side of an auto body repair shop leave him unenthused: “It’s very abstract. I like them enough,” he says, with a flick of the wrist passing by.

About the still-open frame shop, with paintings for sale on the sidewalk, he simply shakes his head disapprovingly. “Every afternoon I walk by there,” he says, cracking an amused Mona Lisa-like smile. “Meh.”

Ben Barcelona

Ben Barcelona finds art wherever he can during the coronavirus outbreak. In this case: a Kentucky Fried Chicken building on Western Avenue.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

The Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant on Western — a quirky, modernist structure — however, stops him in his tracks.

“Oh, this. I looove this one,” he says. “You see, the architect is trying to convey the chicken. See the wings? And it’s shaped like a chicken bucket.”

Then he quickly pivots and marches forward. But not without first noting:

“See? There is art everywhere. Now the streets are my museum.”


Barcelona says his health is as good as ever, chalking it up to frequent walking. But his typically spry voice is slightly more weary than usual the afternoon of March 25. He’s a self-described news junkie, and the headlines have been grim and unrelenting, chock-full of numbers:

MOCA has laid off 97 part-timers, the Hammer, 150 student employees.

“And I know them, I know those people!” he says. “It makes me so sad.”

A deserted LACMA on March 30, closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

A deserted LACMA on March 30, closed to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Typically architects like numbers nearly as much as pictures, Barcelona says. Numbers are exacting and certain; cobbled together, they can paint a vivid portrait.

Art museums in the U.S., Canada and Mexico currently house 16,114,156 collection objects, which were visited by 67,638,407 people in 2018, according to the New York-based Assn. of Art Museum Directors. In 2019, LACMA served 260,000 L.A. County youth under age 17, MOCA trained more than 100 teachers from 32 schools and the Hammer Museum presented nearly 300 free public programs. On average, the Getty Library receives 2,200 visits a month, and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens’ 11-million rare books, manuscripts and photographs are picked over by roughly 1,700 international scholars annually.

But numbers are also unforgiving.

As of March 18, because of COVID-19, every one of the association’s 227 member museums in the U.S., Canada and Mexico had closed their doors to the public.

“I just hope that after this virus, the economy will boom and people will contribute to the museum,” Barcelona says. “Art is so important to humans, it’s the food of our soul. These billionaire patrons, they should really give.”

As the death toll in the U.S. rises, Barcelona says he’s trying to keep positive. As a deeply religious Roman Catholic, he looks to God, and artists, for life lessons.

Ben Barcelona in happier times, at LACMA’s “Urban Light,” on one of his Thursday visits in July 2019.

Ben Barcelona poses at LACMA’s “Urban Light,” on one of his Thursday visits in July 2019.
(Courtney Atienza)

From the American minimalist Carl Andre he’s learned: “Less is more. The less you have, the more time for yourself, instead of your possessions possessing you.” From composer John Cage: “The environment, it’s music.” From Marcel Duchamp: “Everything is art.”

His now-daily visits with his daughter have become a silver lining of the pandemic. The two have grown closer, their conversations about life, spirituality and nature, deeper.

“She sits on the sofa, I sit on the bed,” he says of family visits during the age of coronavirus. “And when I leave, it’s just elbow touching elbow, no more hugging.”

Barcelona chuckles at the poignancy, another quack-like laugh, then gently clears his throat.

One day, he says, he’ll return to his “out-of-the-house living room.”

“What’s happening today, it feels like wintertime. But there will be a spring. There will be fields and flowers. Like Claude Monet, the impressionist — you look at that and there is no pain. It’s all joy.”



How to Strike a Work/Life Balance in a Tiny Apartment, According to Design Experts

By Tiffany Leigh – 

Feeling cooped up and stressed out? Here are some essential tips from designers and builders of small spaces.

Small spaces and tiny homes present some physical limitations, but they actually make room for imaginative solutions. As many of us continue to work from home during the pandemic, we might need some help to shift our perspectives and find new strategies for a productive work/life balance. We asked designers who specialize in small spaces to share their routines and words of wisdom.

Shift Your “Small Space” Mentality

SHED Architecture’s Prentis Hale shares a capture of his home, where a cutaway by the stairs serves as a storage nook. "Within a small space, everything can be reached, seen, heard, and optimized with minimal effort," he notes.

SHED Architecture’s Prentis Hale shares a capture of his home, where a cutaway by the stairs serves as a storage nook. “Within a small space, everything can be reached, seen, heard, and optimized with minimal effort,” he notes.

Prentis Hale, principal at Seattle-based SHED Architecture, encourages people to think of small spaces as sanctuaries: “Rather than perceive them as confining and limiting, think of them as places of refuge. For me, within a small space, everything can be reached, seen, heard, and optimized with minimal effort.” Having this new perspective can unlock freedom and creativity. “It’s a place of possibilities where one’s imagination and energy is focused,” he says.

Self-taught designer and tiny house builder Mariah Hoffman, who resides in Long Beach, California, takes a similarly holistic approach to small-space living. “For me, it’s a regular exercise in intentionality,” says Hoffman. “I embrace minimalism as an ongoing practice of spatial and material intention, rather than an enforcement of scarcity.”

Bunch Design in Los Angeles, founded by husband-and-wife duo Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki, crafts a narrative around any type of space. For compact projects, the process is akin to filling out a storyboard. “We script scenes and set up a sequence of moments, not unlike how a painter would compose a composition, utilizing one-point perspective to draw the eye, and at other times layering elements and views using fore-, mid-, and background like a photographer,” they explain. This approach encompasses both interior and exterior elements: “When you design in this manner, space is expansive, interesting, and throws out moments of alignment that delight the senses.”

Create a Morning Routine to Look Forward To

As part of their morning routine, Bunch Design's Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki enjoy sketching and watercoloring.

As part of their morning routine, Bunch Design’s Bo Sundius and Hisako Ichiki enjoy sketching and watercoloring.

Paris-based Batiik Studio’s Rebecca Benichou opts to go with the flow. “I don’t set an alarm clock because I don’t have meetings in the A.M. right now,” she says. “Sometimes, I’ll take my coffee and chill; other days, I’ll go for a run, or start work right when I wake up.” In not setting morning limitations, Benichou enjoys endless possibilities for the remainder of the day.

Hale, meanwhile, suggests a morning walk (while staying mindful of social distancing): “Honestly, it’s the best COVID-19 medicine, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this practice.” On his 30-minute stroll toward a large cedar tree, his phone is off because “listening to the birds is better than a podcast these days.” Upon his return, he gains clarity of mind: “I’ve thought through projects, daily tasks, and critical issues, and then I’ll pull the phone out and make calls on the walk back.”

To round off a perfect morning, he brews up throat-coat tea. “It’s physically and psychologically soothing as we defend ourselves against ear, nose, and throat pathogen attacks,” he says, “so I drink a lot of it!”

Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama of London-based Studiomama, pictured here in their studio, start their day with morning yoga.

Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama of London-based Studiomama, pictured here in their studio, start their day with morning yoga.
Courtesy of Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama

For Hoffman, self-care is what makes each morning special, and her routine includes Ursa Major face wash and By Nieves moisturizer and body spray. Then, she settles in with a steaming cup of coffee, Bialetti being her espresso maker of choice. Between sips, she’ll do free-form journaling: “I call it my ‘morning pages,’ and this unstructured writing allows me to clear my head.” Lastly, while cooking breakfast, she’ll organize her day. “My lineup includes getting dressed, prioritizing accessories I love, and then hopping online for work,” she says.

Sundius and Ichiki find Zooming friends and family, drawing, and watercolor painting to be soothing. “It has become a nice routine we do every morning,” they say.

Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama of London-based Studiomama are all about morning movement to enliven the senses and mind. “We always start each morning with yoga exercises,” they say, sandwiching their mats between the sofa and dining table for a vinyasa or ashtanga session.

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Break Up the Day to Prevent Post-Lunch Slumps

Rebecca Benichou’s 377-square-foot Paris apartment is cozy and light-filled.

Rebecca Benichou’s 377-square-foot Paris apartment is cozy and light-filled.

Courtesy of Batiik Studio

Benichou looks forward to having lunch or a snack under natural lighting. “Due to the self-quarantining, I’ve discovered that my favorite spot is to have a meal under the sun by my window,” she says. After that, she’ll lie on the floor and continue to soak up the rays during a power nap: “Napping is so important and therapeutic, and I feel we don’t get enough chances to do it every day.”

To prevent post-lunch fatigue, Tolstrup and Mama advise people to put on some tunes (this is Mama’s go-to mix) or otherwise break up the day. “To keep us going,” they tell us, “we’ll sometimes go for a stroll after lunch, talk about projects, and share what we’ll focus on for the remainder of the day.” These moments of transition and scenery changes allow for sparks of creativity to organically occur. And above all else, they say that if you feel stress and pressure mounting, allow yourself to take a moment and step back from it all.

Office, Study Room Type, Medium Hardwood Floor, Desk, Chair, Bookcase, Lamps, Storage, and Shelves The upper-level office of Elysian Cottage by Bunch Design, where the materiality of the Douglas Fir ceiling has the most impact, takes on the feeling of a true cabin in the woods.

The upper-level office of Elysian Cottage by Bunch Design, where the materiality of the Douglas Fir ceiling has the most impact, takes on the feeling of a true cabin in the woods.

Sundius and Ichiki say that setting priorities and exercising healthy boundaries is what can keep your energy and spirits up: “We don’t need to work such long hours and have so many meetings.” If you decide to turn off your phone and be unavailable, they say, “Go for it…the whole cracking-the-whip, frantic work life needs to be replaced with something more balanced and sustainable that centers around family.”

Hale says that when you feel like you need to press the pause button, do it without hesitation: “All the remote conferencing and screen sharing is draining. At midday, I make a point of unplugging, stepping outside, sitting down, and simply not saying anything for five to 10 minutes.” In this time, he draws or makes a collage in a sketchbook his brother-in-law designed for him. “Attempting to make something beautiful every day should be a palliative habit,” he says.

Define Working Spaces, but Leave Room for Flexibility

Living Room, Table, Plywood Floor, Chair, and Desk The built-in dining table in Marah Hoffman’s tiny home, Micro Modula, can be adapted for work.

The built-in dining table in Marah Hoffman’s tiny home, Micro Modula, can be adapted for work.

For Benichou, finding space to work means rearranging her surroundings. “Simply put, there are no limits,” she says. “I push my furniture aside and enjoy my space. Then, I clean my desk and surroundings after a day’s work so the house looks and feels like a house again—not an office space!”

Hoffman also takes time to reset in her 156-square-foot tiny home. “My tables and surfaces serve multiple functions,” she says, “but I try not to use them at the same time.” For instance, her dining table is her designated office nook until the day is done, when it transforms again for meal times. To take this strategy a step further, she sets what she describes as “behavioral boundaries,” using phone alarms to start and end the work day, and to remind her to go do bed. Although her line of work requires that she be available outside typical 9-to-5 hours, her alarms are gentle reminders to maintain healthy boundaries: “They care for my well-being, and allow me moments to exercise self-care and gratitude.”

Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama pose with their two children, Otto and Lula.

Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama pose with their two children, Otto and Lula.

Courtesy of Nina Tolstrup and Jack Mama

Compartmentalization strategies also work for Tolstrup and Mama, who have two children. “We separate our family life and our studio, and our kids respect that when we are in the studio working,” they say. The kids are allowed to visit and stay in the studio, but they know to keep busy with drawing or homework. “Doing this makes them feel welcome and part of our studio work environment,” they say.

For Sundius and Ichiki, their dining table has become a multifaceted workhorse: “It’s a school desk for six hours of the day, then a virtual playdate space; every evening, it’s a dinner table, other times a crafting area—and so much more.” This is all possible as long as there’s an intention set beforehand, and everyone cleans up after themselves. “It’s been a big savior,” they say. “Everyone is doing their part to respect these boundaries.”

“Telephone calls and Zoom meetings in a shared, small space are distracting and loud,” concedes Hale. As a solution, he says to carve out temporary defined zones. “If you can, designate a room for calls,” he says, “and even take it a step further—move some clothes to transform a closet into a telephone booth.” He encourages people to perceive so-called limitations as an opportunity to turn your “team” (aka family members) into a well-oiled machine that can handle any curve balls thrown their way.

Keep a Sense of Humor

Prentis Hale has a setup in his daughter’s room. Her motivational poster is tacked on the wall.

Prentis Hale has a setup in his daughter’s room. Her motivational poster is tacked on the wall.

Courtesy of Prentis Hale

For Hale’s temporary work-from-home space, he “rented out” his daughter’s 11 foot-by-11 foot bedroom. “My laptop and iPad sit on her plywood desk, white pegboard to my right,” he describes, “and there’s a wall of light gray/blue to look into when I’m not staring at a screen.” But perhaps the highlight is his spirited cheerleader—a motivational cartoon poster crafted by his daughter that says “Thank the ground for catching you.” In these unpredictable times, a little laughter goes a long way to keep the peace and the sanity within a small space.

Sundius and Ichiki endorse having a schedule but keeping an open mind when things go inevitably awry. “It’s hard for everyone right now,” they say. “Although we’ve always worked from home, we have maintained the thought that this is strange for everyone, and have tried to tend to everyone’s needs as they come up.” For instance, they encourage their children to come up to them and express their issues instead of shouting: “We’re often on a call, and their screams and pleadings are now broadcasted across the nation.” Overall, the duo say to be polite and patient. When in doubt, laugh, and seek out the positives. “Yep, productivity is down, but on the bright side, my cooking and drawing skills have gotten better,” jokes Sundius.

Keep Your Home Tidy for the Feeling of More Space

Something as simple as making your bed can make a small dwelling feel instantly larger and more spacious.

Something as simple as making your bed can make a small dwelling feel instantly larger and more spacious.
Batiik Studio

Hoffman says that making your bed is a small, simple act—yet an incredibly effective way in making spaces feel larger. She uses Marie Kondo’s KonMari method of tidying up because it allows her focus on elements that matter the most to her, “and reminds me to let go of everything else that’s not currently serving my well-being.”

Hale also subscribes to a spring-cleaning state of mind. “If you feel your small space is getting you down, do something about it!” he says. “This hard time could be an opportunity for the greatest spring cleaning in U.S. history, and to change the way we use and value space. Let’s not miss it.”

Tolstrup and Mama say to rid yourself of things you do not need, as small spaces should be filled with joy and happiness. “Only keep quality things you love and care about,” they say. “Get rid of everything else that’s not in regular use.” For example, digitize your files and paperwork with a program like Adobe Scan or Genius Scan. Overall, these types of exercises are what makes living in small spaces so enriching: “It ultimately forces you to evaluate the things that are truly meaningful to you.”

Anxiety Expressed in RED


Three UCLA Arts faculty members – Catherine Opie, Willem Henri Lucas and Dana Cuff – reflect on the theme of home for our podcast, Works In Progress.

We’ve become a world under lockdown. As the novel coronavirus pandemic continues to spread worldwide, more than 3.9 billion people, or half of the world’s population, are now being asked to stay in their homes.

Of course, some people can’t stay home. Health care workers, grocery store clerks, delivery drivers, construction crews and others are deemed essential. Every trip away from home is a risk.

For those of us who are lucky enough to still have jobs and can do our work from home, the world has shrunk to the confines of the walls around us. Our homes used to be a refuge from the world. But now these sacred, personal spaces are where we work, study, raise kids and live out our lives. The home has become the office and the classroom, the gym and the cafe. Even as we bake, pick up new hobbies and try to get closer to our families, a lot of us are learning new ways of being home.

Home and domesticity have been themes of photographer Catherine Opie’s work for a long time. Graphic designer Willem Henri Lucas fills his home with objects collected from foreign countries. And architecture theorist Dana Cuff is thinking about how disease shaped modern architecture, and how our home and office spaces might change if telecommuting becomes the norm.

Catherine Opie has been exploring notions of home for nearly three decades. She traces her interest in home as a subject back to her childhood.

“When I got my camera at nine, most of my photographs were of my family and around my house in Sandusky, Ohio, and my friends,” she said. “And I think that photography in itself lends itself to home.”

In her image “Self-Portrait/Cutting,” made in 1993 when she was thirty-two years old, she sits with her back to the camera. Carved into her skin are two stick-figure women holding hands, next to a house.


Catherine Opie, Self-Portrait / Cutting, 1993

Opie showed another aspect of home in the 1999 series “Domestic,” in which she travelled around the country in an RV, photographing lesbians and their families in their homes.

In the early 2000s, she went on another road trip to document American anxieties for her series “In And Around Home,” which featured scenes of family and community.

“I realized that since 9/11 we had all of a sudden became a fearful society again, and we were sheltering in place more. Home theaters were being built at that given time,” she said. “We as Americans felt that terrorism was going to take over our lives, and it made us much more insular as a society.”

Opie photographed house exteriors in Beverly Hills and Bel Air for her series “Houses and Landscapes,” and then took an unusual approach to celebrity portraiture with “700 Nimes Road,” a series shot inside Elizabeth Taylor’s Bel Air home of the actress’s possessions and interior decor.

In the 2016 series “The Modernist,” her friend and longtime subject Pig Pen appears to be running around LA and setting fire to famous modernist homes designed by John Lautner. The image at the top of the page shows Pig Pen at the Sheats-Goldstein House.

As we are called upon to stay in our homes, Opie says we should also think of those who don’t have a home to stay in.

“What is really hard for me right now is imagining people who don’t have a safe place to be, who are without homes. And as we know in Los Angeles, this is a profound reality for 60,000 people,” she said. “And so home has a really profound way of also showing us the haves and have-nots at this point in time.


A detail from Willem Henri Lucas’s downtown LA loft. 

Willem Henri Lucas is a professor in the Design Media Arts department at UCLA. These days he’s in Zoom meetings and classes a lot, catching glimpses into other people’s homes and private lives.

As a consummate collector, he’s fascinated with the objects people collect and display in their homes. His downtown LA loft is filled with art, books, masks and other trinkets that he bought at flea markets on his foreign trips.

“What I’m interested in still is what home actually means. In the times that I’ve moved, I realized it was not just the space that you’re in, like the actual building or the actual surrounding, that it’s memories and that it’s things,” Lucas said.


Image of the 405 freeway during the coronavirus pandemic by James Tapparo II via Flickr/CC

The city of Los Angeles feels very different than usual. Gone are the large crowds and traffic jams. The trains and buses are mostly empty, as the world has shrunk to the size of our homes and neighborhoods.

Will everything go back to normal once the pandemic is over? Or will we forever move through the city differently? And how might the home change as it replaces the office for many of us, at least for now?

For more on the physical changes that might result from COVID-19, we reached out to Dana Cuff, a professor in the Architecture and Urban Design department at UCLA and the founding director of CityLab, a research center at UCLA that explores urban possibilities through experimental projects. She also co-authored the new book “Urban Humanities: New Practices for Reimagining the City.”




Art Industry News: Damien Hirst Has Created a Rainbow of Butterfly Wings to Raise Money for the National Health Service + Other Stories

Plus, François Pinault’s Paris museum won’t open until 2021 and Christie’s teams up with the Andy Warhol Foundation for a charity sale.

Artnet News

Damien Hirst, Butterfly Rainbow (2020). ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020
Damien Hirst, Butterfly Rainbow (2020). ©Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2020

Art Industry News is a daily digest of the most consequential developments coming out of the art world and art market. Here’s what you need to know on this Monday, April 20.


Auction Houses Face a Reckoning – The New York Times surveys auction houses’ efforts to remain competitive even as their salesrooms are closed and their way of doing business faces unprecedented challenges. Auction houses around the world need to find a way to deal with their hefty overhead, which includes prime (and currently unused) real estate. But the bigger question is whether virtual sales can come close to generating the kind of money in-person events do. In 2019, online sales made up just 9 percent—about $5.9 billion—of the $64 billion in total art market sales. “The auction itself is high drama—gladiator sport,” said the dealer Brett Gorvy. (New York Times)

Pussy Riot Member Pushes to Support Persecuted Creatives – The nonprofit organization Artists at Risk is seeking to support those who face threats to their freedom or who are unable to reach safety during the current pandemic. Iraqi painter Dia al-Azzawi and Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina are backing the campaign, which is trying to raise funds to cover living expenses for artists at risk and, where necessary, help relocate them to a place of safety in their country or region. (Press release)

Damien Hirst Designs a Rainbow for the NHS – The artist took time away from answering dozens of fan questions on Instagram to create a new rainbow design to help raise money for the National Health Service. The image, called Butterfly Rainbow and made up of bands of butterfly wings, can be downloaded from Damien Hirst’s website and displayed in people’s windows to show their appreciation for NHS staff. A limited edition print of the design will also be available for purchase. “The rainbow is a sign of hope and I think it is brilliant that parents and children are creating their own version and putting them up in the windows of their homes,” Hirst said in a statement. (We’ll ignore the fact that in much of his work, the butterfly motif is meant to be a symbol of death rather than uplift.) (Press release)

Former LACMA Curator Protests Zumthor Project – Detractors of LACMA’s new $750 million Peter Zumthor-designed revamp are not giving up, even though demolition on the old buildings has already begun. LACMA’s former chief curator for European art, J. Patrice Marandel, has even agreed to be on the jury for a renegade open call for architects to submit alternative ideas, organized by the protest group Citizens Brigade to Save LACMA. (Los Angeles Times)


Christie’s Teams Up With the Warhol Foundation for a Benefit Sale – Christie’s will hold a charity auction in partnership with the Warhol Foundation to raise money for struggling American artists. “Andy Warhol: Better Days” includes 60 photographs by the famous Pop artist and will run online from April 28 to May 6. The top lot is a shot of famed Met curator Henry Geldzahler posed behind the artist against a backdrop of yellow flowers (est. $15,000–20,000). (Art Market Monitor)

Meet the Top Young Collectors to Watch – The next generation of art collectors don’t all come from finance. In fact, according to a glossy survey by Cultured magazine, they represent a broad range of industries and professions, from acting (Laura Harrier, Los Angeles), to fashion design (Leslie Amon, Paris) to tech (Lizzie Grover and Tinder founder Sean Rad, Los Angeles). But don’t be fooled—as usual, there is a healthy dose of family money thrown in here, too. (Cultured)

The Chef Who Had 700 Unknown Paintings – When Ficre Ghebreyesus died at the age of 50 in 2012, he left behind more than 700 paintings and hundreds of works on paper that capture his memories of growing up in East Africa. While he moonlit as an artist, his main job was as the chef of the beloved Caffe Adulis in New Haven, Connecticut. Galerie Lelong in Chelsea is now representing Ghebreyesus, and his first New York exhibition “Gate to the Blue” will open on September 10. (NYT)


François Pinault’s Paris Museum Opening Delayed – The highly anticipated opening of François Pinault’s epic Paris Museum, the Bourse de Commerce, has been postponed until spring 2021 due to COVID-19 and France’s continued lockdown, which was recently extended into May. Pinault had already postponed the grand opening from mid-June until September, but now, the big reveal of the Tadao Ando-designed museum will have to wait even longer. (Le Figaro)

teamLab Gets a Solo Show in San Francisco – The digital art collective will get its first US solo museum exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. “teamLab: Continuity” will be held in the new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion, the city’s largest new exhibition space, with dates to be confirmed at a later time pending the public health situation. (ArtfixDaily)

Holburne Museum Launches Fundraising Campaign – The Holburne Museum in the UK, built to house the collection of former Navy officer William Holburne, is trying to crowdfund £50,000 ($62,000) to secure its future. The 130-year-old art museum has been shuttered since March 18 and management says it is now at risk of permanent closure due to a lack of ticket sales and other income. (BBC)


Take a Political Poster-Making Workshop Online – A former member of the Guerrilla Girls known as Aphra Behn is offering 12 lucky participants the chance to take a four-hour poster-making workshop. The workshop, scheduled for May 8, will offer tips on how to make and distribute effective works of protest art (though it is not affiliated with the current Guerrilla Girls art collective). To register, visit the group’s website. (Press release)

A Frida Kahlo Blockbuster, Deferred – The Cleve Carney Museum of Art and the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage are postponing their epic Frida Kahlo show until next year. “Frida Kahlo: Timeless” will now run at Cleve Carney from June 5 through September 6, 2021, and existing ticket holders will have their tickets automatically transferred to the news dates. (Press release)

UK Health Secretary Speaks in Front of a Very Distracting Hirst – The UK health secretary Matt Hancock seems to have borrowed Damien Hirst’s only portrait of the queen from the Government Art Collection. The pink and blue spin painting, which Hirst gifted to the government straight from his studio in 2015, was spotted behind him as he laid out the country’s new “battle plan” to fight coronavirus on ITV news. (The Art Newspaper)

Robert Peston


.⁦@MattHancock⁩ seems to have borrowed Damien Hirst’s spin painting of the queen from the government’s art collection

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