How Ncontemporary Updated Its Digital Strategy to Cope with COVID-19

Milan-based Artsy partner Ncontemporary shares what the team has been doing after closing the gallery’s space.

How Ncontemporary Updated Its Digital Strategy to Cope with COVID-19


Established in 2014, Ncontemporary originally operated out of various project spaces in London before moving its main exhibition space to Milan with the aim of supporting young, emerging artists. Taking a collaborative approach, Ncontemporary works with collectors, curators, public entities, and fellow galleries to support its roster of emerging international artists.


Milan, London

Ncontemporary's gallery space before COVID-19

Santiago Reyes Villaveces standing in Ncontemporary’s Milan exhibition space with his current show, “Spirit Level.” Image courtesy of Ncontemporary.

Milan-based Artsy partner Ncontemporary recently had to close the doors of its main exhibition space and move to meeting with collectors on an appointment-only basis. Due to the influx of COVID-19 cases in Italy, the Italian government expanded its lockdown to all of Lombardy, forcing Ncontemporary to significantly adapt its business practices.
We reached out to Ncontemporary founder Emanuele Norsa to find out what his team has been doing to support the gallery’s artists and connect with collectors when business as usual is no longer an option.

Life at the moment: quarantine and social distancing

In a typical year, Ncontemporary will host five shows and a series of site-specific installations. These days, openings, shows, and fairs are indefinitely postponed. “April is the most important month in the Milan scene,” Norsa told Artsy during a recent phone interview. “We prepare all year for the program in April, and that has been impacted.”

Fairs and events are not the only aspects of Norsa’s business to be impacted, either. “Even on a daily basis, everything that has to do with meeting artists, collectors, everything has been stopped—frozen,” he said.

What actions is Ncontemporary taking to continue supporting its artists and business during these extraordinary times?

Doing what matters most

1. Sharing artists’ works and stories with collectors through videos online

Many international artists were forced to relocate due to the coronavirus, and Ncontemporary has already been impacted. Yet Norsa’s commitment to his roster of young, international artists has not wavered.

“One of our artists from Israel was doing a residency close to Milan and she had to leave suddenly, so her project is on hold until April at least,” Norsa said. “This impacts us directly—it stops a sale to a collector.”

Despite these challenges, Ncontemporary has continued to share its artists’ stories and work with collectors. Less than a week into Milan’s lockdown, Ncontemporary distributed a video feature, positioned as an “Artist’s Talk,” on Santiago Reyes Villaveces’s show “Spirit Level” in Ncontemporary’s Via Lulli Project Room, via Instagram, email, and an Artsy show. Santiago Reyes Villaveces in conversation is a 24-minute video showcasing the artist in his studio in Bogotà, Colombia.

still from artists talk video during COVID-19 outbreak

Still from Ncontemporary’s feature on Santiago Reyes Villaveces, “Conversation Spirit Level Ncontemporary-Santiago Reyes Villaveces.” Courtesy of Ncontemporary.

Norsa said that “[Ncontemporary] might do other videos now, connecting with artists to discuss the preparation of the new show. [We are] trying to give a different view of our artists at a moment when the world seems to be closing down.”

With social distancing measures still in place, plans to continue iterating on this video initiative could be a solution for many artists in this challenging time, as they provide collectors with a chance to connect with artists and their work—even if they can’t see them face-to-face.

“We will have to bring the studio and the production to the houses of the people digitally.”

Emanuele Norsa, Ncontemporary

2. Seeing digital as a way to bring art and people together, despite being apart

Ncontemporary’s physical space has always been the heart of its program. Coping with new regulations has forced the gallery to hit pause on its daily routine and invent new solutions to run its business.

“Business goes on. But galleries are here to be open, and when they close, you have to rethink,” Norsa remarked. “We are starting to see in a very philosophical way. It gives us a different time to analyze and plan differently for the year.”

In the past, Ncontemporary’s Artsy profile, website, emails, and social media posts have been marketing tools. “We are not that digital,” said Norsa. “Many times, we do not have time to focus on different ways to connect with our audience. We fly around the world, go to fairs, plan the year ahead, and focus on our artists.”

“We don’t have time to focus on digital, but for us now, we have time to focus on digital channels.”

Emanuele Norsa, Ncontemporary

Taking a step back to consider what is central to Ncontemporary, Norsa noted that “we are a gallery that looks to bring the content to our collectors, curators, and friends. [Being] online can help with that.”

screenshot of Ncontemporary's show on Artsy, part of their COVID-19 response plan

Screenshot of Ncontemporary’s current show, “Spirit Level,” via Artsy.

Norsa hopes that Ncontemporary’s partnership with Artsy will play a key role in this strategy. “We acquired an important collector through Artsy,” he said. “For us, it is an opportunity to be a part of a platform where our artists come up. It is a way to open up the show and the gallery at a time where our collectors and our artists cannot come to us.”

As other major industries have already begun to think about the lasting impact posed by quarantines, lockdowns, and shelter-in-place measures, Norsa also wonders how these radical measures will change the landscape of the art world in the long term.* “Maybe the art system needs to evaluate this impact, from museums to galleries to fairs,” he said.

“I don’t think we will come out of this as we used to be,” Norsa continued. “Maybe the system needs to be more digital, or more local, or both.” With so many unknowns, the answer remains unclear for now.

“Digital is one answer and a strong answer.”

Emanuele Norsa, Ncontemporary

What’s next for Ncontemporary?

Ncontemporary continues to iterate on its digital tactics, rising to the challenges facing the gallery industry and the art world at large. Norsa remains confident and optimistic, noting that “the best galleries remain the ones [that are] connected to their city, their environment, and then [are] able to project it outside, digitally.”

As galleries are seeking out new ways to connect their artists’ works with collectors, the online experience is more important than ever before.