As Coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to spread across the globe, galleries and museums worldwide have begun to take precautions and close to the general public in an attempt to limit the spread of the disease. As fear and tensions across nations have increased, so has the advice from governments to self-isolate and limit social activity. A question that may be in the mind of many art lovers is what will happen to long-loved collections of famous art institutions whilst the world delves into an increased state of lockdown? The duty of care that public art deserves still remains paramount but nonetheless becomes harder to act on during this time of uncertainty. So how can the world keep art alive in the upcoming weeks as coronavirus continues to shut down galleries and postpone exhibitions?
The UK’s first solo exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi has been postponed. (Artemisia Gentileschi, Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1638-39).
Even though the world is facing the challenge of self-isolation and quarantine, art does not lose its significance. Rather, art becomes something that one can and must hold onto. Art has the power to bring peace to a troubled mind and uphold a sense of calm amid uncertainty. Above all else, what is desperately needed during this difficult period is kindness to one another and an understanding of the bigger picture that is at stake. Art has remained at humanity’s side through far more dire situations, and it will not fail us now. As galleries, exhibitions, and fairs across the world will inevitably remain closed for the foreseeable future, art and humanity have been forced to collaborate and seek alternative ways for art to remain in our lives. Many websites of institutions worldwide feature excellent photographs of their collection, including London’s National Gallery, Madrid’s Museo del Prado and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to name a few. Another option is Google’s Art and Culture platform that showcases digital copies of more that one thousand international art institutions. A video posted on YouTube earlier this month documents a five-hour journey into one of the State Heritage Museum in St Petersburg in Russia. More recently, curators from Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum that are now in quarantine and self-isolation have discussed artists and works in great length for their followers. Despite being virtual substitutes, options like these provide an immediate sense of relief for those who need it.
All four Tate galleries will remain closed with no definite date set on re-opening.
Many art fairs that were planned to take place within the past few weeks have been postponed or cancelled completely, turning the art world upside down. Others, like the Art Basel fair, one of the largest modern contemporary fairs, have decided to continue for now but to maintain an awareness of the ever-changing situation. Painful decisions are being made by governments to postpone major exhibitions, such as the long-anticipated exhibition on Raphael that was due to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale. The National Gallery have also decided to postpone the UK’s first major exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi, a decision described by its director, Gabriele Finaldi, as “sadly unavoidable”. Some exhibitions and fairs, like the Affordable Art Fair in London that took place last week, remained open to the public, granted with a smaller turnout than in previous years. Still, there are conscious and difficult decisions being made regarding the closure of global art events and institutions. The reason for this is simply that art matters in that it plays a crucial part in our society. Art is important to the public and is a key factor in our mental and emotional wellbeing. We have been forced to change our way of living, and the art world is no exception. But in that change lies triumph. Though life as we know it has been distorted, the coming together of art and humanity truly exemplifies their resilience. Forever and always, art will prevail.