Social distancing guidelines around the world have forced the temporary shutdown of museums and art galleries around the world. Not long after, citizens expressed regret that exhibitions they wanted to see were canceled and curators responded by offering some shows through an online platform. In fact, with the closure levying severe economic stress on these cultural venues, curators around the world have been looking at new ways to redefine their operations in a COVID and post-Covid world.
An art gallery or a museum are places where art and materials are collected, preserved, researched and exhibited. They are responsible for improving the artistic and cultural awareness of a population through the dissemination of international exchanges and artistic activities. They are valuable places for education, relaxation, and leisure activities, not only for experts, but also for ordinary citizens. While practicing social distancing, the number of visitors to online sites for art galleries and museums has increased by more than 500 percent worldwide. For example, the Louvre Museum in Paris has seen daily Web site access increase from 40,000 to 400,000 people. This phenomenon is also being seen in Korea. If the epidemic continues, the popularity of museum may have to be determined by the number of visitors to the website instead of the actual number of visitors to the physical location.
|▲ The Nam June Paik art center offered a program called 'Hi Nam June Paik Art center. (Photo from Nam June Paik gallery)|
Indeed, we should accept this change as the new reality, if the gloomy prospects of experts that another serious epidemic could break out even if Corona eventually ends, is taken seriously. As museums and art galleries are located at the highest point of the cultural and artistic ecosystem iceberg, a careful and mid- to long-term response is needed for a post-Corona world. Some high-profile sites are already on board with the idea. The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art posted exhibition videos guided by curators on YouTube. This received foreign media attention and resulted in the facility being selected as one of the top 10 art museums in the world. The National Gallery curator in London filmed a YouTube broadcast from home introducing a collection of National Gallery artists who were also at home, while the Ghent Museum in Belgium, which organized the Van Ac exhibition, hosted a half-acre VIP tour as its director traveled around the exhibition hall explaining the pieces for about 30 minutes. The Lakes Museum in Amsterdam also created a special challenge called 'between art and quarantine.' The museum challenged netizens to visit the Getty site (https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/)), which has a number of well-established art works posted online, select three of their favorite works and recreate them with anything they can find at home while in quarantine. The photos were to be posted online and shared widely under hashtags citing the original work. Sotheby's, a world-renowned auction company, hosted a real-time online streaming auction for the first time and the "Phantom of the Opera" concert in Korea was performed online during a live YouTube streaming event.
|▲ MMCA's 'Exhibit Tour of Academic Artists' on YouTube. (Photo from MMCA's Youtube channel)|
There are many advantages to showcasing art online. First, it is highly accessible and unrestricted in terms of space and time. A reality in the 21st century is that the majority of people around the world own a smartphones. If an art gallery moves to an online platform, it literally becomes an accessible art museum in their hands. But can anything replace the physical experience? Experiencing art through a virtual space excludes the materiality and spatiality of art galleries and museums. If we believe the essence of these spaces is to experience the collection in person, the transition to online will never fully satisfy. So, is there any way to preserve the advantages of online services with the added value of the physical presence that art galleries and museums have?
There are currently several ways being considered to preserve the physical sites while they are only operating online. The first is to provide empty gathering spaces, such as classrooms, theaters, and event spaces to content creators who lack work space or to use them as a quiet writing space for researchers. The idea is to turn the underutilized space into a productive workplace for the venue. This is an opportunity to prove that the facility is alive and to renew its purpose productively. The second solution being looked at is to use the buildings for alternate purposes. This summer, the Nam June Paik Art Center offered a program called ‘Hi Nam June Paik Art Center’. This program allowed local citizens to freely write and express messages using stickers and post them to the exterior walls of the building.
Writing about art galleries and museums during a pandemic may feel extravagant. However, at times like this, we should think about the value an art gallery or museum plays in society. Art not only offers us an opportunity to learn to respect one another and understand our differences, but also holds solidarity as their highest value. Modern art in particular, serves the message that humankind must be preserved beyond its aesthetic beauty.
As society as a whole is in crisis, most art industry workers are forced to work from home. Faced with tough economic prospects, many will likely be unable to renew their previous work contracts. Starting in smaller cities, museums are downsizing. This will soon lead to a problem of regional inequality. It is time for the entire industry to plan for a common goal, rather than competition or exploitation.
Art has been responsible for preserving the cultural heritage of humankind and for enriching our experiences, education, and promoting solidarity. What art has contributed to society should shine more in the post-corona era. Therefore, the industry must rethink their business models from the ground up and come up with creative efforts for operating in a post Corona world. The museum is not a market, but rather a place to go to restore our societal values. If galleries and museums plan for the future by strengthening their solidarity, they will be able to solve the problems the community as a whole is facing. People also should not forget the purpose of art and history and remain supportive of these facilities as they enrich our lives.
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