Kept in Quarantine, KAWS, Banksy, and Other Top Artists Are Responding with Standout Art Projects

Claire Selvin


April 20, 2020 1:46pm


With social distancing and non-essential business shutdowns still in full effect in many parts of the world, artists have been forced to come up with new and creative ways to engage with the public. Many—including marquee names like BanksyDamien Hirst, and Ai Weiwei—have taken to Instagram to give their followers a glimpse into how they’re handling the pandemic. Below, a guide outlining how some of the world’s biggest artists have been coping with the current state of the world.

The elusive street artist Banksy took to Instagram to share images of a bathroom decorated with the artist’s signature rat stencils. The photos posted, which are accompanied by the caption “my wife hates it when I work from home,” show rats getting up to all kinds of trouble. One appears to run across a roll of toilet paper sitting on shelf while others work together to adjust the position of the mirror above the sink. Though public spaces around the world have been left largely empty by the coronavirus crisis, Banksy continues placing artworks in unexpected locations.

Damien Hirst
Meanwhile, Damien Hirst has been utilizing Instagram to interact more directly with his followers. Over the course of a four-part live series called “On the Psychiatrist’s Couch,” the artist answered hundreds of questions from viewers. Topics ranged from Hirst’s practice and sources of inspiration to his experience with social distancing in the pandemic. The artist announced on the social media platform on April 20 that he created a new work, titled Butterfly Rainbow, as an homage to National Health Services staff. The piece can be downloaded from Hirst’s website, and a limited edition print of the work will be available for purchase, with all sale proceeds directed to the NHS. He also created a heart-shaped work that appeared in the pages of the Evening Standard and will also be sold as a limited edition print to benefit coronavirus-related relief.

Shepard Fairey
Shepard Fairey, the artist behind former U.S. President Barack Obama’s iconic 2008 campaign posters, has collaborated with Adobe on a new initiative called “Honor Heroes.” The project includes works depicting essential workers at hospitals, grocery stores, the postal service, and other entities created by Fairey and other artists and designers. “I’m inspired to glorify those who don’t seek glory, but rather to serve humanity when it is most challenged,” Fairey wrote on Instagram when he shared the work Guts Not Glory, which figures in the series. In addition to its $3 million pledge to coronavirus-related causes, Adobe will give $250,000 to the nonprofit Direct Relief as part of the “Honor Heroes” campaign.

After releasing an augmented reality project that situates digital versions of one of his coveted sculptures in 12 cities around the world as part of a public exhibition called “COMPANION (EXPANDED),” Brian Donnelly, who is widely known as KAWS, made an adjustment to the initiative when social distancing efforts took hold. The artist added an update to the Acute Art app allowing users to experience the sculpture from their homes. Rather than visiting specific sites in London, New York, Tokyo, and other cities, individuals can now projects KAWS’s work in any location.

Ai Weiwei
The activist and artist Ai Weiwei has taken to sharing screenshots of his FaceTime conversations, including one with his mom. This series of photos on the artist’s Instagram account captures the daily ritual of video calling that many around the world are continuing to practice. But that’s not the artist’s only contribution to the current moment. He also penned an essay for the Art Newspaper discussing China’s response to the pandemic. “When will the virus be under control? When will it end? Will it come back? People will always have these concerns,” the artist, who was working on a documentary about Covid-19 when the virus broke out in China, wrote.


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