The year that 2020 has been makes me think of two poems: one, written around 1802 by William Wordsworth at a moment of crisis, and the other written in 1964 by Denise Levertov in direct reply to the Wordsworth sonnet. Wordsworth, one of the key figures in the English Romantic movement, wrote “The World is Too Much With Us” in response to what he regarded as the misfortunes brought about by the first industrial revolution. Among them are the transformation of human relations into capital-oriented transactions, the rise of decadent materialism; the treatment of the natural world as a possession to be owned and exploited — all of which resulted in the shriveling of our spiritual and emotional selves. The poem is written in despair, the kind of despair that drove through this year, which saw nature rear back up on its hind legs and brutalize humanity. The global pandemic caused by the coronavirus caused widespread death, reduced whole economies to rubble, and diminished human relations to shreds of what they had been before. For me, dealing with isolation and the paucity of human touch has been particularly grueling.
In the midst of all this immiseration, Levertov’s answer to Wordsworth “O Taste and See” is the one we need: “The world is / not with us enough / O taste and see.” This year-end issue of the Hyperallergic Special Edition (published to coincide with the end of the year) consists of lists, remembrances, reflections, summaries, and overviews that acknowledge the struggles that the Hyperallergic team — staff writers and editors — experienced right along with our readers. We look at the struggles of the art scene in its many permutations — ethnic, economic, social, political, medical, administrative, and aesthetic — while also keeping in sight the exhibitions, events, protests, and initiatives that buoyed us. Despite all we lost this year, we take the poet’s meaning to heart as we return again and again to art for sustenance; we still reach out to taste “all that lives to the imagination’s tongue.” We do so because we know that art, like poetry, bids us to be in the world, not run from it, and that being in the world means “living in the orchard and being / hungry, and plucking / the fruit.”
This week’s edition includes:
- An essay by staff writer, Valentina Di Liscia, begins by looking at how her professional correspondence changed. For her, this illustrates how the pandemic affected what she paid attention to in her journalistic work, where she was based, and how engaging she felt her writing could be. Also providing a rundown of the most memorable stories of the year, Di Liscia demonstrates that following and writing about these events was a kind of lifeline for her.
- Hakim Bishara, a staff writer, recalls the most salient narratives of the year for him, in particular recounting what happened in New York City to fellow journalist Jill Nelson and artist and curator Kate Bae, who were both caught by the undertow of xenophobia and racism unleashed this election year.
- Dan Schindel, our documentary editor, realizing that many of us stuck indoors for much of the year took solace in film and television provides a list of Hyperallergic’s 15 favorites for the year, as voted on by staff and some frequent contributors.
- Our senior editor Elisa Wouk Almino, who lives in Los Angeles, talks about the year as seen through the lens of LA’s artists, art spaces, and art schools. She discusses how they responded, at turns wonderfully and inadequately, to the many moments of crisis and reckoning.
- Reviews editor Dessane Cassell Lopez takes notice of the many projects in NYC that sparked joy, challenged, moved, or otherwise stuck with her throughout this year. In addition to the museum and gallery shows, Cassell also lists online programs and initiatives such as Instagram series and film playlists that were memorable.
- Jasmine Weber, our news editor, looks at the major news that unfolded throughout the year, describing how the coronavirus crisis seeped into every facet of our society and drove headlines for most of its duration. She also takes a global perspective here, talking about the catastrophes that took place in Beirut and the Armenian cultural genocide impelled by the Nagorno-Karabakh war.
- Rea McNamara, our Emily H. Tremaine Journalism Fellow for Curators, reflects on her time as a full-time employee at a Toronto cultural institution, where she felt that her treatment as a hypervisible token (diversity hire) emptied and exhausted her before she resigned. She recounts the moments of performance art, online conversations, and the obsession she fell into with the band BTS in her quest for an enlivening community.
- For my contribution I felt it appropriate to offer my take on the year by relating a couple anecdotes that point to how transparency is too often lacking in the key institutions and businesses that make up the art scene. I also offer some analysis or what has changed and what remains the same in a time full of reckoning with profound institutional failure.
- Lastly, our editor-in-chief, Hrag Vartanian, writes a very personal account of the anxiety and emotional labor that lies at the heart of running a business during the pandemic when others are shuttering, economic resources are scarce, and the way forward just isn’t clear.
As a final note, we want to thank you all for staying with us throughout this tumult, and for those of you who became members or continued your membership and thus offered us the critical support we need to keep going, we thank you with our open hearts. And we are looking forward to having you with us next year.