After Covid-19 are museums and galleries

In South Africa, curators and museum guides saw their institutions closed under strict confinement, which lasted for several months. Now their vision for their profession has changed, with more attention being paid to their online presence and visits by smaller groups in their showrooms.

From our correspondent,

At the Javett Art Center in Pretoria, as with most companies across the country, a protocol must be followed before a visitor can access the works. He must first complete an online questionnaire and then adhere to a temperature measurement. Once inside the concrete building on the university campus, he will be able to browse through the pieces of the museum mask on his nose and away from other visitors.

A new reality that art lovers and students had to adapt to when the museum reopened last September, but which also disrupted staff habits. “We had to reconsider our way of working,” explains Gabi Ngcobo, the institution’s new curator. Despite her more than twenty years spent in the art world, this professional, who arrived at the Javett Art Center in November, had to fully review her practice and start arranging exhibitions.

“Architecturally, we have to prepare the room differently: in the exhibitions I organize, there are never large crowds, I always try to give space to be able to think, but today it becomes a public health problem,” explains the curator. We must create spaces as open as possible where air can circulate, she continues. Usually we try to limit as much as possible in showrooms. the outside air intake because a certain temperature must be maintained. But we are lucky here to have space and be able to use different spaces. “

The Javett Art Center is part of the University of Pretoria and builds on its relationship with students. With most courses now offered online, campus sees much less traffic. “So it also made us think about how we present our programs online. We always have room for improvement, “excites those who are also teachers and curators of the tenth Berlin Biennale in 2018.” For example, we place more emphasis on the language used to talk about art online. , to try not to exclude anyone and also to talk to young people. “

The art center had also tried a new approach before Gabi Ngcobo’s arrival to make his works accessible in the midst of a pandemic: a drive-in exhibition had been organized where drivers could admire sculptures while driving. in the parking lot. “Today we have to try new things, the art lover agrees, even though not everything necessarily works, we have to accept the unknown.”

Occupy physical and digital spaces

Venture into new projects: this is also credo from BKhz Gallery in Johannesburg. The small art gallery, opened in 2018 by artist Banele Khoza, has focused on digital since its inception. But coronavirus encouraged the very young exhibition curator Oratile Papi Konopi to push his ideas even further, “because restricting movement makes it much harder to visit a workshop, organize exhibitions and all other logistics: we therefore have to adapt.”

The gallery is already offered on its website 3D tours in organized exhibitions between its walls. Thanks to new software, the 23-year-old can now design exhibitions that are only available online, e.g. «Habit of», which encourages thirteen artists to reflect on their places of creation and their habits. For that, he had to grope and learn new skills: “I am used to moving paintings physically, feeling them in my hands and seeing the light reflect on them. Here there are not all these factors, it is strange, it is enough to press a button and the work is displayed. “

These online projects have also provided time to organize the gallery’s relocation to the Rosebank business district with a reopening scheduled for next month. Because there must be a balance between the physical and the virtual, according to this curator: “an exhibition completely online also has limits, it works well for photos, but for paintings we are not aware of the different structures, and that does not do the sculptures justice . “But these new experiences are also good, according to Oratile Papi Konopi for whom” it has opened a boulevard for new technologies. We are now more aware of the different spaces we need to occupy. “

New models of museums far from the crowds

The brand new Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation, which opened its doors this year, is also part of this dynamic of creating new models for museums. “There is no text shown in this exhibition, so you will not be bombarded with information,” Jodie Pather explains to the small group surrounding her, “and the works take back their central place. “

The 24-year-old guide, who is continuing his studies in art, was seduced by this new experience: In order to get into this old restored tram hangar, you must first have made an appointment on the Internet. A maximum of ten people can participate in each guided tour free of charge. “In the other places where I worked, people just walked by, there was no real exchange. Here it is much more intimate, ”she says.

The way this foundation works was designed before the health crisis to avoid crowds and allow time to enjoy each work, but it works wonderfully in times of pandemic. “Visitors bring something, and I do, no one dominates the other with his knowledge,” observes the young woman. It is strange in times of Covid-19, where we are so separated, to experience this refreshing exchange. And I am sure that someone who has no knowledge of art can also appreciate the visit because there is no sign that tells us what to think of a work. We interpret it in our own way. “

What, according to Jodie Pather, is creating interest in times of Covid-19 “because the virus has made people ask questions about how they would spend their free time and what they can do in a time of risk-free pandemic: I think this kind of museum model attracts because it is an active visit, of quality and in full security. “

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