By Katy Diamond Hamer

A collage (left to right: July 4th, Sanford Biggers, Cajsa von Zeipel, Portrait of my Grandmother, Sunflower, at Downs & Ross, 2020)


This year has been one for the record books, literally. I started 2020 off by doing what I do. I went to galleries, pitched articles, was flown to Austin, Texas to see Nicole Eisenman’s solo exhibition at The Contemporary Austin, and attended art fairs. I was in a the early stages of a new relationship, observing prisms that appear in nature and also those from refracted light such as in the stained glass windows of Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” on the grounds of the Blanton Museum of Art. Life felt colorful, filled with newness and possibility.

Nicole Eisenman, Sturm und Drang, The Contemporary Austin, Photo by Katy Hamer, 2020


After going to The Armory Show in early March, followed by the Independent, a haptic experience at The Museum of Moving Image, the final exhibition I visited before everything closed down was Ryan Mettz at Mudd Gutts Gallery, which has since closed, on March 18. Only a few days prior, museums across New York City announced shuttering their doors due to the virus, mandated by New York State. These included, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Guggenheim, MoMA PS1, Neue Galerie, The Shed and the New Museum, The Whitney Museum of American Art, amongst others. 

At this time, COVID-19 had already burned through China and was causing deaths throughout Italy. My friend the artist Nico Vascellari had made limited edition prints featuring a front page report from La Repubblica as part of his project Coda Lunga stating, “In Dark Times We Must Dream With Open Eyes.” In New York, we knew that the dark times were coming, but we didn’t truly know the extent of what that meant. The first time I heard the phrase, “Sheltering-in-place” I looked it up on google, fearing I would be confined to my apartment, alone, unable to even walk my dog. Fortunately three positive things came out of this realization:

1. I would be able to walk my dog.

2. “Sheltering-in-place” meant that all but essential businesses would close, but pharmacies and grocery stores would remain open.

3. I wouldn’t have to do it alone, the man I was dating allowed me to shelter with him at his home. 

Katy Diamond Hamer at Dia Beacon, Photo by Ben Cawiezell, 2020


There was so much unknown. About us and our relationship, about the state of the world as the pandemic expanded on a global level with no end in sight, and the unknown of how New York, our home, would be effected. In these early days I was incredibly happy. I took mask wearing lightly, wearing the experience as some would say, like a “loose garment.” I never could have imagined that they’d become a fashion statement and more importantly a required accessory needed to walk outside or enter any remaining establishments. Remaining, because SO many small businesses have closed during this time. New York is a very different place. There were rigorous and necessary Black Lives Matter protests, fireworks, looting in SoHo, clapping for essential workers, and justified confusion as the world, our world, seemed to be falling apart and filled with injustices.


Galleries started opening to the public in late July and museums followed suit in late August. The first few galleries I visited included Clearing in Bushwick and Fortnight Institute’s new post-pandemic location in Brooklyn Heights, not far from where I had been staying. In-person visits, where COVID-19 protocol was strictly adhered included 303 Gallery, Metro Pictures, and Gladstone Gallery in Chelsea with my friend and PR maven Sophie Wise, Deli Gallery in Bushwick and Downs and Ross in Chinatown.

Sophie Wise and Katy Diamond Hamer at 303 Gallery, 2020

August is when my world and happiness started to shatter. My relationship ended and two weeks later, my maternal Grandmother who helped raise me, passed away. She had dementia and was in a nursing home, unable to receive any visitors due to the dangers of COVID-19. Fortunately after taking a friend’s suggestion, I was able to schedule weekly FaceTime calls with her. These consisted of me telling her how pretty she was and her looking at the iPad camera, mouth stretched into a curious grin. I often thought, what a strange experience for someone born in the 1920s, a survivor of the Great Depression, to now be communicating Jetson’s style, through a flat screen on a wireless network. Her loss in my life, coupled with losing my partner after not having had a loving relationship in many years was devastating. I felt wrecked inside and returned to my familiar state of oneness, and with one less family member. Fortunately, she didn’t pass from COVID-19, but my favorite curator, Germano Celant who founded the Arte Povera movement in 1967, did. Many things were changing. 

It was hard to not feel sad, to not be overwhelmed by emotions and the contradictory feeling of joy replaced with grief. Even though most of the art world had commenced to reopen, the future of art writing seemed dim, as it still does. Receiving a stimulus check and unemployment, even as self-employed person, was more helpful than I realized or wanted to admit. Many of my friends started leaving New York due to not being able to pay rent without employment. I stopped doing yoga, which had been a regular practice for me, even throughout the pandemic. Most folks complained about putting on extra pounds and I somehow stayed disciplined and exercised, walked and did yoga, until I felt too sad. There was just so much imbalance and what held me together through it all, was art. 

Vanessa Thill, Deli Gallery, Bushwick, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2020


The first gallery I visited post-breakup was Arsenal Contemporary followed by Bridget Donahue in Chinatown and Half Gallery on the Lower East Side. The Metropolitan Museum of Art welcomed press and Vip’s on August 27. Conceptually clutching my broken heart, I stood in front of Greco-Roman sculptures in the sculpture garden and paintings by Monet and Gaugain, the only one in the room. I went to “Nothing but Flowers” a large group show filled with various flower paintings at Karma Gallery and wished I could visit “Let’s make the universe a better place” at Galerie Perrotin, Seoul, hoping both would shift my perspective. I hugged a sculpture in Rudy Shepherd’s solo exhibition “Calling All Gods” at Latchkey Gallery in the East Village. Next up was 15 Orient in Williamsburg and a dimensional painting show on sobriety by Mathis di Collins, then back to Clearing for Jean Marie Appriou, which I declared on September 13, to be the best I’d seen since the galleries reopened. Following this jaunt, was a visit to Brian Clark’s “The Art of Light” at the Museum of Art and Design, Justine Hill, “Touch” at Denny Dimnin, Zach Bruder at Magenta Plains, Jana Euler at Artists Space with artist Billy Gerard Frank, and Daiga Grantina at the New Museum. Onyedika Chuke’s new gallery Storage Projects is one of the pandemic successes in Chinatown and is recommended. I went to an obscure pop-up, Sweet Lorraine Gallery in Red Hook, Sculpture Center for a solo show by Jesse Wine, and the list continues. During this time, I commenced upon a practice of writing myself a love poem a day, as a way of healing. 

Rashid Johnson, “Stage,” MoMA PS1, Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2020

One of the most poignant experiences during this time was reading “Love poem [to myself] #18,” aloud as part of Rashid Johnson’s “Stage” at MoMAPS1.

Love Poem [to myself] #18

Today I

Bring you flowers

The type that attract

Bees because they smell so

Sweet, the type that grow, glow

In the dark because they are so

Bright, the type that almost never

Die or dry up because they are so


Today I bring you


As a gesture of kindness and


My voice echoed bouncing off the concrete in a nearly empty, albeit minus a security guard, courtyard. The reading wasn’t documented because the guard was unable to hold my iPhone due to COVID-19 protocol, but rest assured that it happened. Shortly thereafter, my friend Matt Jones graduated, unceremoniously, from Hunter’s MFA program, and invited me to his thesis show at the college gallery. Students graduated and completed their semesters on ZOOM, the now ubiquitous platform for meetings and classes. Going to the student exhibition, was both refreshing and sad, knowing how hard the students had all worked and that due to the circumstances, their show wouldn’t be seen in person by many. I could feel the energy of disappointment by the few present who knew that this was the case. Online viewing rooms and gallery exhibitions that only exist virtually, do not replace the in-person experience. 

Artist Billy Gerard Frank at Rudy Sheperd’s exhibition at Latchkey Gallery, Photo Katy Hamer, 2020


This rang loud and clear for me in two powerful exhibitions about incarceration. The first, “The Other Side” by Steven and William Ladd at The Invisible Dog Gallery in September and “Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration” at MoMAPS1 curated by Dr. Nicole R. Fleetwood which I visited in October. Each of these exhibitions, the latter of which is still open to the public, introduce viewers to an indeterminate future of those who are, or have been incarcerated, through visual art. The Ladd’s met with prisoners through a community focus and collaborated with those behind bars, presenting this work in their exhibition. Conversely, yet parallel, the exhibition at MoMAPS1, includes artwork by both self-taught prisoners and art school graduates. Some have been released, some remain incarcerated and behind bars, while others have passed away. The exhibition is a feat and perfectly curated, providing insight to what most people do not get to see —art that has been made due to circumstance, in extraordinary ways. I also went to the Museum of Modern Art and saw the Donald Judd exhibition, and shortly thereafter took a mental health break, spending a few weeks at my sister’s home on Long Island. 

Titus Kaphar, “From a Tropical Space,” Gagosian Gallery, Photo by Katy Hamer, 2020

Upon my return to Brooklyn, I visited Basquiat’s grave for the first time at Greenwood Cemetery and started doing yoga again. Pace gallery was showing Dubuffet’s unrealized project “Le Cirque” and a new body of paintings by Julian Schnabel titled, “The Sad Lament of the Brave, Let the Wind Speak and Other Paintings” and both were incredible. Looking for some spooky pre-Halloween vibes, I visited “Haunted Haus” at Swiss Institute with my friend, designer Paolo Raymundo. This was followed by DJ Carl Craig’s exhibition “Party/After-Party” occupying the complete lower level of Dia Beacon, where I danced my ass off with a mask. I went to see Cindy Sherman, “Men” at Metro Pictures after having had a sneak peek at Griffin Editions, and one of my Arte Povera heroes, Michelangelo Pistoletto, in a somewhat disappointing show at Levy Gorvy Gallery. Halloween happened and my art adventures continued with Titus Kaphar “From a Tropical Space” and Theaster Gates, “Black Vessel” both at Gagosian, two of the best exhibitions of the year. 


I voted blue, and while the world was masked, in fear and trepidation surrounding the final results of the Presidential election in the United States, contemporary art held me as strings support a marionette. I swayed at Luhring Augustine Bushwick to the melancholic soul jazz of Jason Moran, marveled at the intricate embroidered works on canvas that had been smuggled out of North Korea orchestrated by artist Kyungah Ham on view at the Asia Society Triennial, watched Ryan McNamara FaceTime with Laurie Simmons at his exhibition of pastels drawings at Company Gallery (a new favorite of mine!) and got lost in the precisely installed work of mixed media sculpture by Alex Ito at Interstate Projects. There is a particular type of freedom that I’ve felt reporting about the art in galleries during this time. A time when art writing for a freelancer is less accessible, but the internet (ahem Instagram) is always wide open and an apt space for me to share this type of reportage, aka art in a time of COVID-19.

Ryan McNamara, Company Gallery, Photos by Katy Hamer, 2020


My legs carried me to various art venues and my eyes and spirit devoured the visual stimulation. I also started therapy and worked on releasing the insecurities and that not-enoughness that had crept up post-breakup. My life was charged for being bettered. I got a tarot card reading from Sarah Potter in August, did a few internet based courses on DailyOM, Becoming the One by Rising Woman, and most recently had an incredibly insightful astrology reading from Demitra Vassiliadis —a gift from my dear friend Lyle Ashton Harris. They say it takes a village, and I am so grateful to have so many friends and tools to facilitate growth in all stages of life. In mid-December, I rode my bicycle in frigid temperatures to the Whitney Museum of Art to see artist Salman Toor’s first museum solo exhibition titled,How Will I Know.” Shortly thereafter, unexpectedly I seized the opportunity to dance again, this time at Victori + Mo gallery for Michael Gittes exhibition, “Purgatorio.” I then visited Nicole Eisenman and Keith Bodawee’s show at Flag Foundation and “The Softest Place on Earth” by Ana Benaroya at Ross and Kramer Gallery.

Anne Mourier, “Taking Care: The Feet,” The Invisible Dog, 2020

As a gift to myself during Christmas week, I went to a performance titled, “Taking Care: The Feet, by Anne Mourier” at The Invisible Dog. The experience was incredibly healing and a profound way to usher in 2021. Mourier, set up shop: a simple chair, French soap and white tea towels to dry the feet of those freshly washed. Sitting in the chair, feet dangling just above a bowl of warm water, I felt confirmed, validated, that everything had lead to that moment and I was ready to be cleansed —literally, emotionally, mentally, metaphorically and conceptually. All of it. The symbolism of washing feet is something that draws back to biblical times, when Mary Magdalene (as often portrayed in art history) washed the feet of Jesus. Side note, I just researched this and it seems that the woman is unnamed but was most likely Mary of Bethany sister of Lazarus. A gesture of submission, surrender, humility, and grace, washing someone else’s feet, can be construed in many ways, also practical, but I tend to lean towards the more dramatic, historical and grandiosity of the act. Mourier shared that she was inspired to clean for others in a performative gesture, after growing up witnessing her own mother’s penitence through the act of cleaning, as a way to amend her beauty. She has washed the clothes of strangers and now washed their feet. Whether domestic, spiritual, or just kind, the act was exactly what I needed to finish off the year. It was perfect. In 2020 I was happiest I’d been in many, many years, and then the saddest yet, I left the gallery with a smile on my face and chin held high. 

Natalie Frank at Half Gallery, 2020

2021, I’m ready for you. 

Katy Diamond Hamer is an arts professional, critic, lecturer, social media maven, and lover of all things contemporary art.