Museums and cultural institutions cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak

What impact will museum closures have on the art world?

Museums are places we go to learn, engage and explore. They are responsive and have the power to host a dynamic conversation with contemporary society. After the awakening from their somnolence through the 20th century, (most) museums are now self-conscious and mindful, acting as reflexive civil organizations. Alongside art fairs and biennials, the art world relies on the works presented at these institutions to determine the themes and artists of the next year’s cultural programming.

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, much of the world has ground to a sudden halt, due to social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. Art events were some of the first things to be affected by government recommendations to limit social gatherings, and museums swiftly followed suit, with a variety of responses.

Government warnings have issued different plans of action for museums around the world, either ordering them to close or leaving the message vague on whether shutting down is necessary. Int he UK, Geraldine Adams of the Museum Association noted, “some culture professionals are calling on institutions that remain open to take matters into their own hands and close immediately to protect public health,” even though many governments around the world are not calling on them to do so.

Globally, the list of museum closures and event postponement is extensive. Many are closing for a minimum of two weeks, some indefinitely. There are too many to name here, so visit the artnet news website  or this Google doc for the full list.

Annual art festivals are the most affected. They invite a global audience into one space, boost the tourism sector, the economy, and the veneration of ideas and artists. Postponements to cultural events include the Venice Biennale, which has cut three months of its programming, Art Basel’s Swiss Fair (after cancelling Art Basel Hong Kong) and Frieze New York, which has fully cancelled its summer 2020 programming.

In Montreal, all major museums have closed. To name a few, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Pointe-à-Callière Montréal Archaeology and History Complex will all be closed until March 30. The Canadian Centre for Architecture has closed until further notice, the Montreal Holocaust Museum will be closed until April 17, and The McCord Museum has closed for a minimum of two weeks.

Economic and labour effects

As much as it pains us all to admit it, cultural institutions do not run purely on the exchange of knowledge. Museums are able to function based on government funding, private investment or ticket sales. They act as major employers and nodes of economic exchange. Most public institutions will continue to receive government funding during this time, but what about the independent organizations, where revenue from visitation helps keep them afloat? There have been calls by the Museum Association to redirect funds from cancelled festivals and events across the world to help bail out museums in need.

This is affecting the already underpaid employees of many in the cultural field. The Los Angeles Times reported that many museums across the US have not laid off part-time and hourly staff, and planned to pay them until April 1—but after that, regular employment is uncertain, as they cannot know how the situation will develop. Many museums are using this opportunity to ask staff to aid in the development of new engagement techniques and online resources, rather than leaving all the work to the salaried employees, which could potentially restructure the archaic organizational hierarchies entrenched in many business models.

The New York Times reported that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is “reallocating discretionary resources usually used for acquisitions and programming toward operating expenses, fund-raising from foundations and donors and pursuing government assistance” to help mitigate the long-term financial impacts of COVID-19. As one of the most influential museums in the US, and arguably the world, it is thought that this will set the precedent for many other institutions, but this raises the question, what will happen with the artwork shown in the museums? Will there be fewer exhibitions, educational resources, and artists presented?

New initiatives

Many museums have been using this weird moment to get creative with how they engage their audiences on social media. The Museum From Home hashtag on Instagram and Twitter shows  highlights from gallery collections to create a pseudo-archive of the moment. Also, one of the trends that have been keeping me sane throughout the pandemic is the Museum Moment of Zen hashtag on Twitter. From cats to Monet paintings, many museums and galleries have been partaking in this wholesome hashtag. I, for one, can finally say that I have seen one of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room because of it, as the Broad Museum live-streamed the exhibit on their Instagram.

Some larger museums have, over the past few years, utilized new technology to provide virtual tours that are more important than ever in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 500 institutions teamed up with Google Arts & Culture to open their doors to the internet community, providing a museum-going experience from the comfort of your home. Canada also runs a national Virtual Museum shared by museums and cultural heritage organizations. Smaller initiatives, like the Social Distance Gallery (@socialdistancegallery), have taken to Instagram to make sure student thesis shows are not lost in the transition to digitization.

The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) posed the question last year, “is a database a museum?” With the digitization of all mediums of information, we could argue yes, so the learning aspects of museum-going may not be lost. However, the one-off educational workshops and experiential learning aspects cannot be excluded from the conversation and will take efforts on all ends to reach its potential.

It is not all bleak; more than 180 museums in China reopened this week after extended closures. According to Artnet, they have strict health measures in place, with most requiring visitors to submit their health code—a mandatory metric of tracking a person’s risk level. The museums are limiting the number of visitors, and some, including the Power Station of Art in Shanghai, have emergency quarantine areas set up on each floor.

But how can museums act as lighthouses for the current dystopian play we find ourselves in?

Museums should be working with the complex societal paradoxes we find ourselves in to make them accessible and digestible for a wide audience. Although this has mostly been done with a predominantly white eurocentric bias until the 21st century, the COVID-19 outbreak could be an opportunity to plan exhibits that reflect on the government, social, and economic inadequacies exposed by the global pandemic. From the necessity of universal basic income to drinking water issues in Indigenous communities to inept health care systems, this could be the time for mass institutional change and reflexivity in what they show and the ways they do so.

As Eunice Bélidor, a Montreal-based curator, critic and researcher, states in her latest curatorial tip; “In this moment of COVID-19 crisis, where access to cultural and art institutions are forbidden, curators have to find alternatives to a) keep presenting exhibitions b) pay artists. One of the best ways out there is to present online exhibitions, which currently are the only thing we have access to.”

There is light at the end of the tunnel; accessibility, new media and more creativity in museum engagement, so stay inside and happy viewing. Share your digital art experience with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @TheConcordian. 




Feature graphic by Sasha Axenova, Museum Cancellations gif by Chloë Lalonde and screenshot from Google Arts and Culture.



Nuit Blanche: Thoughts en lumiere, a rush into a green utopia

We didn’t do Nuit Blanche together, but we might as well have. Two arts writers vs Nuit Blanche. The apathy is real. We were slightly amused. And we’re still thinking too much about the colour green (and outer space?

Chloë Lalonde, Arts Editor, etc., The Concordian 

Nuit Blanche only really came onto my radar when I was in CEGEP, I guess some would consider that a late discovery. My best friend and I visited the Musee d’Art Contemporain (MAC) for one of their fantastic nocturnes. We had special drinks, I don’t remember much of the exhibition (it might have been David Altmejd) and exited the museum directly on Ste-Catherine Street. Little did we know of the wonderland that waited for us outside. Ah, a time when you didn’t have to book your slide/ferris wheel/zipline experience in advance… It was the best surprise.

Since then, Nuit Blanche has been lackluster, ridden with food anxiety, too much beer, long lines and the wrong activities (yeah, I’m talking about “wand-making” at Lockhart).

This year I decided I would spend my Saturday evening after a long day of teaching and laying out the arts and opinions sections of the paper, visiting as many galleries as I could manage with my sister. We met up quite early at the Belgo building (372 Ste-Catherine St. W.), before things were popping, and managed to pass by every gallery that was open, before stopping by the very crowded MAC, UQAM’s art gallery, a surprise performance we weren’t expecting and finishing off with Le Livart.

The Belgo is unassuming, if you didn’t already know it was home to 27 galleries, several artist studios, savvy startups and dance studios, it would be hard for you to find out. The exterior isn’t necessarily inviting, neither is the lobby and the adjacent cafe (I found a hair in my crepe and they gave me a free latte.)

It was my sister’s first time there and she had no expectations, but I didn’t want to disappoint. I did force her to cancel her unmade plans with her friends to hang out with me, after all. We rode the elevator up to the fifth floor (which is truly the sixth), and wove our way in and out of galleries uninterested until I started to notice a grand theme. Every gallery featured some kind of moon print. Drawings or lithographs, etchings, paintings––like craters on the moon––everything felt geographical, alluding to the earth and the landscape.

AMER, an artist from Montreal, paints with rust in their exhibition at Galerie Luz, using hydrogen, oxygen and carbon—what AMER considers among the essential elements for the appearance of life. Their work returns to the origin of the medium, with natural hues and industrial materials to reference ancient cave paintings and transmit modern messages over time.

Past a wall separating Galerie Luz in two, lived fibre works that felt entirely alien to AMER’s practice. White and fluffy, interrupted by copper threads and plastics, Mariela Borello’s tapestries connect to the body.

Later, at UQAM’s art gallery, the moon prints returned. Only this time they were in the forms of massive paper tapestries and sculptures disappearing into the floor. These rooms of earth and stone, on until March 21, compiled the incredibly similar practices of Michel Boulanger and Katja Davar.

Boulanger’s Girations, Rouler 1 was absolutely mesmerizing. A jeep-esque vehicle sinks and resurfaces, only to sink again, creating new landscapes with each dip. Davar’s drawings resonate on the same frequency. Each piece is like witnessing the plans for a new earth, land and soil.

The theme this year was “vert,” and events and exhibitions generally referenced the colour, sustainability and the environment throughout. Green is symbolic for many things, most notably, growth, whether natural/environmental, economic or personal, it’s said to be healing and inspire creativity.

Some works were all too literal; Le Livart had an exhibition up the whole month of February based solely on the colour green, and others were just flat out unrelated and overpopulated (collection exhibitions at the MAC).

Oh, and I can’t forget the performance we walked into on our way home, which was, arguably, my sister’s favourite part. Mourning of the Living Past, performed by Inflatable Deities, Canadian artists Jessica Mensch and Emily Pelstring, shook their futuristic “organic sparkly energy” all over UQAM’s Judith-Jasmin pavilion. It truly infected my 18-year-old sister. She danced along with them (behind the crowd) as I filmed her. She also changed her Instagram bio to “organic sparkly energy,” which I’m pretty sure is what the glittery duo chanted into their electronic amplifiers.

Sophia Arnold, Contributor for The Concordian and CUJAH Editor-in-Chief 

For the past five years, since I moved to Montreal, Nuit Blanche has been something to look forward to in the depths of your depressive episodes at the height of winter, mostly because the metro is open all night and the thought of riding public transit at 4 a.m. is overwhelming for a green-minded, uber-despising person. It gives a cosmopolitan New York vibe that Montreal aspires to everyday but can only afford to cave into twice a year (the other night being New Years Eve).

Nuit Blanche attracts all kinds of people: those who have kids and want to take them on the mini Ferris wheel at Place des Arts before retiring after “doing Nuit Blanche,” tourists who are just happy to be wherever they end up (admittedly, me the first two years…), and Montrealers who know where to be and will not give you the time of day if “you’re not from Montreal.”

My night started at Le Livart. I had been there a few times before but never on Nuit Blanche, although my partner had and was enamoured with the basement dance floor. The layout of the place reflects its roots as an old residential home, and still allows for artists-in-residence to use the upstairs rooms as studios. For Nuit Blanche, they had many artists exhibiting their works on the ground floor, and opened the upstairs, inviting you to speak with the gallery’s resident artists.

The exhibition went through all the various interpretations of this year’s theme, green, in all its facets. Livart expanded on the ideas presented in Vert, Histoire d’une couleur by Michel Pastoureau, who highlights green as a central colour in the role of art history. As you enter, Renaud Séguin’s green, ‘cabinet of curiosity’ style room welcomes you into a literal green space. Filled with found objects, from candy wrappers to paint colour samples, and some iconic references, like a picture of The Green Lady (@greenladyofbrooklyn), it’s like entering a commodity forest; our new image of green.

Other rooms in the gallery welcomed the interpretation of ‘green’ to be detourned headlights,  bricolage wreaths placed on the ground and large-scale photography. Due to the variety of mediums included, when you left Le Livart you were very aware what role the colour and ideology of green plays in contemporary art.

Next stop was Palais des Congrès, where we saw some of the works featured in this year’s Art Souterrain underground exhibitions, running until March 22. The piece we spent the most time with was the automated metro doors in sequence that opened as you walked through the hallway of them. It was an unexpected yet retrospectively predictable surprise seeing as the delapidated metro cars are the subject of many interactive installations throughout the city, highlighting the history and development of an iconic feature of Montreal daily life.

Next on the agenda; Phi Centre. I don’t really know where to begin with this one. As a self identifying ‘antenna,’ Phi Centre hosts a variety of events showcasing the latest tech developments, and this night was no exception. The show, Simulation/Acceleration, was built on the premise of human connectivity, digital capitalism and environmental degradation, exploring the topic with Virtual Reality (VR), augmented reality and a green screen interactive performance. DJ sets also took place throughout the night with visuals.

Life on the green screen was the highlight of the show. Mesmerized by the piercing gaze and dynamic movement of the performers in an array of outfits and positions, it was an ominous presence that rarely broke—apart from when viewers were invited to enter the green screen setup and the rare drunk guy did a peace sign. The screen showing the results of the green screen performance embodied the premise of the show, deconstructing the commonplace ideas of humans as apart from the environment and autonomous players in a hyperconnected world.

After a necessary food detour, we headed to Places des Arts, which was a short stop. Eying it through the crowds of people, we decided to skip it this year as it has an overdone, commercial vibe that we weren’t looking for (signified by the giant maple syrup cans).

Final stop: Eastern Bloc. The event aimed to create an urban oasis and safe space for freedom of expression and being, which it did through Allison Moore’s installation, The Enchanted Woods and various DJ sets with a dance floor in the usual exhibition space. Running until 4 a.m., it felt like a liberation from winter and greyness, taking you out of time and space to a utopic non-place—even though they ran out of drinks and you had to wait 30 minutes for the bathroom, which kind of brought you back down to earth.

All in all, it was an extensive, involved and jovial evening. But, we wish this programming was accessible at a substantial level throughout the year. In one evening, you go to four events before your corporeal limit is reached and you miss events that cannot be experienced again. In an ideal green utopia devoid of money, the metro would run 24 hours a day and every night would be an opportunity to engage with your local and international communities in such a monumental way, like the way you can on Nuit Blanche.





Graphic by @sundaeghost

Photos by Chloë Lalonde and Sophia Arnold.

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