“The Museum will undertake a thorough cleaning,” reads last week’s statement from Met CEO and President Daniel Weiss, in a Thursday decision to close all three of its locations. With a confirmed 62 cases of COVID-19, the city of New York is bracing for the apocalypse, and this means quarantining its art. While Weiss said there were no confirmed cases at the Museum, the New York Times reported that two Met employees had shown symptoms.
Art institutions all over the world are taking indefinite vacations from the public. While Venice is on apocalyptic-level quarantine, emails are currently going out around the world, announcing selected participants in the 2021 Venice Biennale. But there is no telling what the landscape of 2021, let alone of the next month, will be for the (art) world. The Louvre shut her doors last week; virtually every major public art space in Germany and Spain have closed.
Virtually every major art museum is closed—along with St. Patrick’s Day Parade and March Madness.
Now New York is following suit—though to most New Yorkers, Friday’s closing of the Met, MoMA, Whitney, and Guggenheim pales in comparison to the cancellation of March Madness, the NBA, and, first time in more than 250 years, St. Patrick’s Day Parade. And rightfully so. Sports fans and aesthetes agree this is no way to celebrate the new decade. The Guggenheim will temporarily close its new show Rem Koolhaas: The Countryside—which, however, apparently “has nothing to do with architecture” anyway. April 20 is the date given as a tentative time for general reopening, but everyday this placeholder seems more and more hopeful and less reasonable. Things will get worse before they get better. Researchers and academics will return to their computer screens and casual museum-goers will return to not looking at paintings. Both groups will be streaming 2011’s Contagion.
Amid closures, some cultural instututions offer digital viewing—and some attempt to bring real-world hierarchy into the digital.
Some institutions, like Art Basel Hong Kong, are attempting swift shifts to digital platforms to alleviate impending monetary woes. Starting this year, Art Basel Hong Kong is offering digital rooms to view auctions. Beginning March 20, the activities commence, and the general public will be able to view the fair’s digital storefronts, gaining access to over 2000 works and an aggregate value in artwork of over $250 million. In keeping with the tradition of the fair, VIPs will gain access two days before the public. In a comical attempt to bring real-world hierarchy into the digital, VIPs will be issued a special form of credentials so they might lurk in e-quarantine from the masses. Digital democratization does not overlap with the bottom line in the face of global pandemic. The fear for institutions and individuals who still profit off the annual occurrence of the physical fair will be that this novel digital platform will prove to streamline the entire event, offering to replace the fair’s entire existence.
While solutions are currently being implemented for VIPs to shop for art online, there is no digital alternative to one of their favorite events of the year: the Met Gala. However, the brazen organizers at Cannes Film Festival, another beloved event for VIPs, have not yet announced a cancellation of the event. (They likely will soon, but considering that the entire nation of Italy is “has closed”, it’s quite a statement to not postpone your event at this point.)