The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas became the first major American museum to reopen earlier this week. Under the state government’s orders, the museum was allowed to open at 25% capacity with strict hygiene guidelines, including mandatory masks and temperature checks. As reported by the New York Times, first in the socially-distant line was nurse Joan Laughlin, who had come to see one of the museum’s current exhibitions, ‘Glory of Spain: Treasures from the Hispanic Society Museum & Library’.
The traveling exhibition focuses on the art of Spain, Portugal, Latin America, and the Philippines, and spans more than 4000 years. The 200 objects on loan from the Hispanic Society of America include paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, maps, textiles, porcelains and ceramics, and metalwork and jewelry. The exhibition is organized chronologically into six groups: Antiquity in Spain, Medieval Spain, Golden Age Spain, Viceregal and 19th-Century Latin America, Enlightenment in Spain, and Modern Spain.
This may mark the beginning of the post-lockdown era for cultural institutions in Europe. Museums in Madrid and Barcelona were also allowed to open at limited capacity from May 25th, and French museums will follow at the beginning of next week.
The Spanish government’s Ministry of Culture and Sport has recently published a document detailing how museums and galleries may be able to manage visitors and collections once lockdown has been fully lifted in Spain. Xanthe Brooke has written a summary of their guidance:
‘In addition to implementing hygiene and physical distancing rules the Dept. considers that in the short term at least there will be no room for block-buster exhibitions attracting mass tourism, nor social and educational activities attracting groups of visitors, and that cultural activities should resume with the limitation of capacity to one third. Museum libraries, archives and research rooms will not be available to the public until the de-escalation phases have been completed and, in any case, assistance by telematic means will prevail.
Instead museums and galleries should continue to make their collections accessible by placing their collections online by digitisation, virtual reality, and other technological means. The Dept. goes on to state that though lower visitor numbers might increase the quality of the visit, it might also lead to a more ‘elitist museum’, and so museums must ensure that future visitors are diverse, and seek out methods in which participation can involve different sectors of society.
The Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art has already announced that when it re-opens, sometime in early to mid-June, as well as abiding by hygiene and temperature advice, it will: aim to reduce its visitor numbers to 30% of its previous footfall; introduce a 1-way system around its rooms; and withdraw paper brochures, maps, plans and guides to the museum to prevent the transfer of the virus, and instead introduce an app for visitors’ mobile phones.’