By: Dr. Victoria Győri
Almost every weekend before March of 2020 I saw one of the current art exhibits at the Tate Modern, National Gallery, or the Royal Academy of Arts – just to name a couple favorites of London’s finest museums. There was never a lack of exhibits to see – ranging, for example, from the National Gallery’s 2016-17 Beyond Caravaggio to the Tate Modern’s 2017-18 Modigliani – and, of course, the permanent galleries were always available for another perusal! In fact, I will never forget that the last proper outing I had in mid-March was to the Tate Modern and that I was still looking forward to seeing the National Gallery’s upcoming Titian: Love, Desire, Death. By the end of March, London began her descent into a deep lockdown and her art world closed its doors.
I was reeling. I could not imagine life without my museums (although I have to say the weekend strolls I took in Regent’s Park were quite lovely!)… However, as much as I was reeling, my museums were at a complete loss! The impact of COVID on art institutions was immediate. There was catastrophic financial deficit – from enormous budget cuts to massive redundancy of curatorial staff – which forced museum directors to completely restructure departments, such as at the Victoria and Albert Museum where a controversial move was made: departments would be divided by time period and region rather than materials, e.g., woodwork, metalwork (a move later rescinded because of vast criticism that this would be a “complete ideological change to the museum and its structure”). There was postponement and/or cancellation of highly anticipated art exhibits: such as the 2020 Raphael at the National Gallery in London (commemorating the 500th anniversary of his death) which was significantly delayed until 2022 and the 2021-22 A Superb Baroque: Art in Genoa, 1600-1750 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. which had to be eventually cancelled. There was disconnect from the public – “out of sight, out of mind”. Simply put, museums throughout the world had to very quickly learn how to save themselves from going dark forever.
And rise to the occasion, they did. Museums let us know that are not to be forgotten and, perhaps more importantly, that they have not abandoned us. “We are still here.” “If you cannot come, we will come to you”. Or so the sayings go. A digital metamorphosis spread throughout the art world. Virtual gallery tours, art lectures, courses, and activities were designed to make us feel as (or more) connected than ever. For example, the J. Paul Getty Museum in L.A. posed an extremely amusing (but, informative!) social media challenge: recreate a famous work of art with objects (people and pets) from their own homes.
These virtual lifelines to museums during the longest stretches of lockdown were, to say the very least, a saving grace for me. I can only imagine, through the good this digital age can provide for us today, how many others saw or discovered the solace of art during these extremely trying times. I suspect museums will meet their most recent fans face to face as they begin to emerge, reinvented and, perhaps, more hopeful than before because of the new friends they made…and so, these virtual lifelines became (and still are) mutual saving graces.
However, I will safely tell you that I will be happily spending my birthday at the end of March, exactly two years after the pandemic was declared, at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s latest exhibit – Alberto Giacometti: Toward the Ultimate Figure.
-What was the last museum and/or exhibit you went to before March of 2020?
-What was the first museum and/or exhibit you went to post pandemic?
– How did you interact with art and/or museums during the pandemic?