The art of taking your time at the museum

The duty continues its series on forced mutations in cultural sectors hit by the pandemic. After the performing arts and screens, we turn to museums which reopen by redefining themselves around their own collections in a world less favorable to international trade.

The work is entitled Vie de Nuitand his day presentation quickly turned into a waking nightmare. The Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art (MACM) began screening the 3D film by French artist Cyprien Gaillard on March 5, now part of his permanent collection, with new projectors and rechargeable virtual reality glasses. The sanitary instructions forcing the rigorous disinfection of the equipment got the better of the presentation after only a few days. When we returned to the ideas, the whole museum closed, like Montreal, Quebec, the country, the planet. Public farewell, nothing is going right.

“You go to bed in one world and you wake up in another,” says John Zeppetelli, director of MACM. We are not going to go up Vie de Nuit at reopening [le 24 juin]. There is too much anxiety in sharing material near the eyes. “

The exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican modernism, it, only collects good old paintings, drawings or photos. The inauguration of February 13 at the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec (MNBAQ) sparked a nice surge of attendance at 2,000 daily visitors, as is the rule of this kind of popular success machine (blockbuster) confirmed during the forty previous presentations in as many cities. This guaranteed success stopped dead a month later, due to the confinement.

The reopening of the Lassonde pavilion scheduled for June 29 will extend the presentation of the expo Khalo until September 7, with a maximum of 50 visitors at a time. The Portland Museum, which was to host it this summer, will await its new turn in 2021. There is no question of moving crates and personnel under the new sanitary and transport conditions.

The National Gallery of Canada (NGC) has also stopped trading. “The first instincts are survival instincts,” says Isabelle Corriveau, director of exhibitions and outreach at the NGC. We quickly took measures to ensure the maintenance of the museological conditions for the conservation, security and insurance of the works. We also reassured the lenders and inquired with the borrowers of our own works. “

The NGC will extend presentations of certain works, and the exhibition dedicated to Canadian artist Moyra Davey scheduled for this summer will await the fall. “We were lucky: the majority of Moyra Davey’s works were already in the museum when the pandemic broke out,” says director Isabelle Corriveau.

End of major exhibitions?

These examples of upheaval are repeated as many times as there are establishments, large and small, on the museum planet. The pandemic closed the rooms, isolated the museologists, put an end to loans. This globalized world must now rethink more or less fundamentally, review its way of receiving works and the public.

“We have huge rooms and distancing won’t be too much of a problem,” says director John Zeppetelli. Nevertheless, the MACM will not welcome more than 75 visitors at a time for a one-way signposted route after Saint John, while in the pre-COVID world the establishment could contain around a thousand at a time.

The NGC obtained authorization to reopen on Friday, June 12. Nothing has yet been decided by two working groups, one looking at the safety of employees and works, the other on safety and the visitor journey. “We need attractive spaces,” says Isabelle Corriveau, the director. Our design team is actively studying how to enforce distancing. We are going to arrange very generous entrances between the rooms and facilitate the movement of people by avoiding bottlenecks. “

So you also need attractive exhibits, but not too much. ” The blockbusters appeared in the years 1970-1980 are linked to the phenomenon of globalization, to the simplified possibility of doing business with collectors and lenders from everywhere, explains the director of the MNBAQ, Jean-Luc Murray. I compare it to an international rock tour. We now see the effects of the cessation of world trade in the short term on these presentations. “

Its museum still maintains the presentation from October to January of the magnificent landscapes of William Turner borrowed from the Tate in London. “We will see after 2021 if there will really be long-term repercussions on these types of products,” said the director. At the moment, it’s hard to say, but we don’t feel any collapse. “

The sizes and number of exhibits may change, as rental, transportation and insurance costs (for private museums) reduce museologists’ appetite for massive borrowing. “The transport sector for works of art is very unstable and will remain so in the coming months and years”, summarizes Mme Corriveau, while giving “an exception to the rule”: Rembrandt in Amsterdam, co-produced with the Städel Museum Frankfurt. The works of this work (let’s say old-fashioned) will come from the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, Spain and the United States. The opening in Frankfurt is maintained for December, then in Ottawa in May 2021.

Normally, in the world before, the masterpieces of the Dutch master would have attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors. When it closed at the end of February, the exhibition dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre had attracted 1,071,840 people.

The blockbusters appeared in the years 1970-1980 are linked to the phenomenon of globalization […] I compare it to an international rock tour. We now see the effects of the cessation of world trade in the short term on these presentations.

Should we now say goodbye to these volumes? “We need to claim other quality measures than ridership,” says director Jean-Luc Murray. It’s hard to attract 500,000 visitors a year. The good news with the pandemic is that we are both going down two or three steps. It will be easier to take a risk and accept an annual traffic of 250,000 people. “

The crisis also has consequences for the circulation of national exhibitions. The exhibition Leonard Cohen: a breach in everything / A Crack in Everything, which attracted 315,000 visitors in five months to MACM, was in Copenhagen this winter after a stopover in New York. She stayed in Danish theaters. It takes 40 cases to move it and the director does not see how it can be moved to another establishment.

“We are not in the culture of blockbuster at the MAC, says the director. It’s great for ticketing and outreach when an exhibition is going great, but right now, museum people are thinking more of creative ways to tell good stories with their collections. This is where we are going. “

Back to collections

The reverse of this borrowing logic makes the museums fold in on themselves. The MACM was already involved in this movement to return to the collections. His summer exhibition by a group of Quebec artists entitled The machine that taught birds tunes, planned for a long time, will wait for October. As expected, acquisitions for the permanent collection will exclusively favor national artists. The director hopes the $ 300,000 purchase budget will double over the course of the year thanks to a campaign launched by his foundation.

That said, he doesn’t want to make local retirement a new watchword in his open universe. “It is very important to maintain a dialogue with museums around the world and to bring local artists and their counterparts from elsewhere,” said Zeppetelli. Circumstances force us to retreat, but there is a dangerous side to locking ourselves into our own borders. “

The Director of Collections at the National Gallery of Canada does not see what is being prepared as an alteration or a last resort. “We had already planned that over the next few years our programming would showcase mostly Canadian content. The crisis reinforces this shift, “says Mme Corriveau. The NGC is preparing a major retrospective of the Canadian collective General Idea, a pioneer in conceptual and media art. The programming maintains it for 2021.

The primary vocation of the MNBAQ naturally remains an identity. “I have the impression that a post-COVID rebalancing could allow museums to work more on their collections, including by integrating national components into international borrowing,” says director Jean-Luc Murray, giving the example of the expo Miró in Majorca (2018), to which his establishment could have incorporated works by Pellan. “We can approach collections with a multifaceted vision. Museums have worked on historiography a lot. We can now go with emotions, more sensitive or thematic approaches. “

The MNBAQ is preparing a work on this model by releasing works on the theme of the night, real or metaphorical. “We can think of the pandemic as a night in our lives,” says the director. We probably wouldn’t have gone in this direction if we hadn’t had the big pandemic breakup. “

Murray also believes that the great global break allows museums to reposition themselves as soothing places. “We want to take and give time. We want visitors to stop at a work and question it. We even have the idea of ​​reorganizing a pavilion with this in mind. We are suffering, we doubt, we are sad and we are grieving at the moment. But once this step is over, maybe in a few years, when we have done everything we want to do, we will say that, finally, it was good that it happened. “

Is something awake nightmare good? “The crisis has forced each of us and the institutions to pause, break off, reflect,” concludes Isabelle Corriveau in her turn. There is much positive in this crisis. The NGC will actively refocus on the visitor experience and on committed programming that is attentive to the communities we serve. “

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