As lockdown lifts, the art world is beginning, tentatively and gradually, to re-open. In London, commercial galleries and auction houses are leading the way; many have welcomed back collectors already. Museums, meanwhile, have announced opening dates, taking time to ensure their spaces are safe. So what art exhibitions are on offer in London for the rest of 2020? Are art fairs going ahead? Can we visit that all important museum gift shop yet?
Let’s take a look inside the post-pandemic art world…
Mayfair’s dealers open their doors
Alon Zakaim Fine Art reopened to the public on 15th June with the show ‘Modern Masters: Through the Lens’. The exhibition features iconic portraiture from inside the studios of 20th century painters and sculptors, such as Salvador Dalí, Georgia O’Keeffe and Jean Dubuffet.
Through the photographs, we are invited into the lives of both the artists and the photographers, including André Villers’ portraits of Picasso – the artist who gave him his first Rolleiflex camera.
“We’re hand sanitisered up, ready to welcome our clients back into the gallery, at a safe distance, of course. Our current show, ‘Modern Masters: Through the Lens’ has been available to view via a VR tour for a few weeks, but we’re excited that visitors can now come and see the exhibition in person. As great as all the online tours are, nothing can beat setting foot in a space and seeing the works up close. We look forward to things hopefully slowly returning to some semblance of normality in the coming weeks!” – Ben Springett, Gallery Manager & Head of Sales at Alon Zakaim Fine Art.
Connaught Brown have opened with a beautiful show of modern master and contemporary art, by the likes of Marc Chagall, Henry Moore and Boaz Vaadia.
“We are all excited to be back in the gallery! As to the clients, the West End is very quiet and I think it will take time for people to venture out again. We were expecting a Primark type queue but it wasn’t to be” – Anthony Brown, Director, Connaught Brown.
Art fairs move online
While commerical galleries are open, art fairs will need to remain online. Connaught Brown is one of 150 galleries taking part in this year’s exclusively online edition of Masterpiece London, from 22 – 28 June. This annual art fair allows collectors to view and buy the finest works of art, design, furniture and jewellery – from antiquity to the present day.
You might recognise this famous dealer, who is also taking part in Masterpiece. Philip Mould, of Fake of Fortune fame, sells British art and Old Master Paintings, such as masterpieces by Sir Anthony Van Dyck, outstanding works by Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Auction houses open viewing rooms
While fairs remain online, auction houses are opening. Bonhams’ flagship saleroom on Bond Street re-opened on 25 June, showcasing their Modern British Art auction. This was the first U.K. Bonhams sale with a public view. Furthermore, it is the only stand-alone Modern British Art auction this season.
“There are many museum quality lots on offer, including a very rare Alfred Wallis painted paintbox and a portrait of the author E.M. Forster by Roger Fry, among others. Our secondary Modern British Art auction at Knightsbridge on 12th May, during lockdown, saw a record number of registrations (over 500!) and a very strong sell through rate of 85%” – Matthew Bradbury, Director, Modern British Art.
On Monday 15 June, Sotheby’s London re-opened its doors to the public with an exhibition of over 700 artworks from forthcoming auctions, taking all the necessary precautions to ensure everyone visiting its galleries can do so safely.
“To ensure that our galleries are safely open for all to view, we ask that all visitors adhere to the government guidelines clearly signposted throughout the building. Masks must be worn at all times and hands sanitised on arrival. Masks and sanitiser will be available as necessary” – a Sotheby’s spokesperson.
The exhibition includes The World of Picasso, a sale that celebrates the rich legacy of an inimitable artist who turned his hand to virtually every artistic medium. Encompassing painting, drawings, unique ceramics, editions, photographs and even artist palettes, the sale is distinguished by works from the personal collection of Marina Picasso, the artist’s granddaughter.
At the same time, auction houses are embracing new digital platforms to engage collectors:
“This is a moment of digital transformation for the business, and collectors are keen to embrace new, fast and dynamic ways to transact with us. The records and high prices recently set online demonstrate the increased confidence among collectors in buying high-value luxury items through digital platforms. We have developed a strong digital strategy over the past 5 years, and have built an innovative online platform that we are constantly improving to anticipate the market’s new parameters.
“We have dramatically scaled up our ‘buy now’ offering online – works available for immediate purchase on our website. We want our clients to be able to buy whatever they want, whenever they want, and not be restricted by the confines of the auction calendar. This is something which will certainly continue, both within existing structures like Sotheby’s Diamonds Boutique on New Bond Street, and beyond” – a Sotheby’s spokesperson.
Museums are opening, more cautiously
Following the UK government’s announcement that museums can open from July, many have made steps to reopen, and soon. However, they are showing caution at allowing crowds into their spaces and will be taking significant safety steps.
The National Gallery will be up and running, after 111 days of closure, on July 8. The Royal Academy will be next to follow, reopening to Friends of the Royal Academy on Thursday 9 July and to the public on Thursday 16 July.
Tate plans to reopen all four of its galleries on 27 July 2020. To manage numbers and ensure everyone can keep a safe distance from each other, all visitors, including Members, will need to book a timed ticket online in advance.
“We’re all looking forward to welcoming visitors back to Tate. Art and culture play vital roles in our lives, and many of us have been craving that irreplaceable feeling of being face-to-face with a great work of art. Our number one priority remains that everyone stays safe and well, so we will continue to monitor the situation in the weeks ahead, work closely with Government and colleagues, and make all the changes necessary for a safe reopening” – Maria Balshaw, Director, Tate.
Tate Modern will reopen with Andy Warhol and Kara Walker’s Hyundai Commission Fons Americanus. Tate Britain will reopen with Aubrey Beardsley and Steve McQueen’s Year 3 installation.
Whitechapel Gallery plans to open on 14 July, with timed entry, one-way systems around the gallery, front of house staff dressed in PPE and no live events. It will give the public a second chance to see the major exhibition Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium (extended until 30 August 2020).
“Arts and culture play a vital role in our emotional wellbeing and sense of community. Experiencing great art can be healing and we hope the gallery can offer some solace and a much needed space for reflection and inspiration. It is with gratitude and thanks to all our key workers, as well as a shared responsibility for the health of our communities, that we have reached a point where we can safely and responsibly open our doors once again” – Iwona Blazwick, Director, Whitechapel Gallery.
The Wallace Collection will welcome the public back in from 15th July, with some important changes to ensure safety.
The collection will operate with reduced opening hours, from 11am to 3pm, to avoid people travelling during rush hour. Free, timed tickets need to be booked in advance – on the Wallace Collection website – to manage visitor numbers and capacities.
A one-way fixed route will be in operation to visit the galleries, starting on the upper floor. Not all galleries will be open for visitors. The café and cloakroom will be closed. BUT, the shop will be open and has been enlarged to allow greater space for social distancing!
“Measures will be in place to ensure effective social distancing is maintained at all times, and these arrangements will be continually monitored and evaluated with the hope that opening hours can be extended in the near future” – The Wallace Collection.
Virtual exhibitions continue
As the art world begins its tentative return, virtual exhibitions look set to continue. These are particularly important for those unable, or unwilling, to travel, and wary of visiting large public spaces.
The Net Gallery’s virtual exhibition, Portraits for NHS Heroes, celebrates frontline NHS staff: nurses, doctors, staff from A&E departments, care workers, anaesthetists and specialists from psychiatric wards. 15 portraits have been exhibited within the Grade II listed Fitzrovia Chapel in London, the former chapel of Middlesex Hospital. You can walk through this incredibly moving virtual exhibition here.
Article by Ruth Millington.
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