Confinement, museums mobilized and united



It’s like a mourning exhibition. At the Roubaix Swimming Pool, all the engravings by artist Robert Wehrlin have been veiled with thick black sheets, thus protected from light, since the confinement of October 30. The public did not even have time to discover this donation which was to be inaugurated this weekend, with a retrospective dedicated to the sculptor Eugène Dodeigne. “It’s sad, but we cling to the hope of reopening in a few weeks”, confides the director, Bruno Gaudichon, who polishes the last clashes so as not to give in to discouragement.

The decision to reconfigure the museums was felt all the more cruelly as the many visitors had returned there during the All Saints holidays. At the Center Pompidou, the Matisse exhibition started with 17,000 visitors the first week: a ray of sunshine, while attendance had plunged 67% for the first ten months of 2020, compared to 2019. “The most difficult is to develop scenarios of extensions, without a clear vision on the dates of a possible reopening”, underlines its president Serge Lasvignes.

More prepared and responsive teams

Same observation at Mamac in Nice which celebrated its 30th anniversary with a major exhibition on the amazons of Pop. “Attendance had become almost normal again during the holidays, with visitors happy to discover the energy of female artists, forgotten by the history of art”, notes the director, Hélène Guenin, who from the outset had planned a long period of five months to bring this clash to life.

Because unlike the spring when a time of astonishment had followed the announcement of confinement, the museums were able to anticipate and react quickly. Filmed tours of the Matisse exhibitions in Beaubourg, on “Italian Renaissance Sculptures” at the Louvre or on “Les amazones du Pop” in Nice had been taken at the opening and should soon be put online. All the museums we interviewed prepared games on the Internet around the collections, mini-workshops to do at home, short video clips posted on YouTube or Instagram to maintain the link with the public. “My objective now is to also save our programming of live shows by recordings broadcast via the Internet. We must support the artists ”, explains Hélène Guenin.

At the Granet Museum in Aix-en Provence, where the “Pharaoh, Osiris and the Mummy” exhibition attracted families, the chief curator, Bruno Ely, is working hard on an extension “In particular so that the school public has a chance to see it”. He hopes to take advantage of the confinement to advance the inventory of collections. During this suspended time for some of the personnel of the Center Pompidou, Serge Lasvignes is considering training courses for welcoming visitors and mediation, convinced that “Public expectations will evolve in favor of a better quality of visit”. He would like to launch with his teams “Projects of general interest in collaboration with schools, caregivers, associations working with populations with low resources “.

Budget concerns

Museum officials do not hide their concern, however. If in Aix, Bruno Ely claims to have received “The support of the city to exhibit in 2021 a great international contemporary artist”, one of his colleagues fears, on condition of anonymity, that “The gap is widening between the national establishments very supported by the ministry and the municipal museums in the cities affected by a strong economic slowdown “. The budgetary equation will be all the more complicated as the costs of transport, especially air, have exploded since the confinement. “Today, this position represents 40% to 50% of the budget of an exhibition”, notes Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris.

He had to lower the curtain even though his exhibitions Sarah Moon, Victor Brauner, and Hubert Duprat had found the public of the best days. “Containment is a real trauma, he admits. We can see how much what seemed normal to us before, the fact of being able to set up exhibitions is in reality an exceptional and precious good. The good news in this crisis where museums have discovered themselves to be fragile, where Anglo-Saxon establishments have been forced to lay off staff or sell works, is the solidarity that has manifested itself between them, including the international level. “It was striking for our Brauner exhibition: we got almost all the loans we asked for, including from the United States”, rejoices Fabrice Hergott. A feeling of mutual aid that each of the directors confirms, in Nice as in Roubaix, and which balances their hearts.

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New websites for Beaubourg and the Musée d’Orsay

The redesign of their websites, which have become obsolete, was underway but the confinement accelerated it. The Center Pompidou and the Orsay and Orangerie museums should launch their new websites before the end of the year. That of Beaubourg will offer a new cultural news magazine with interviews of artists, authors, texts from curators. It will also give much wider access to the Centre’s film archives, which are very rich thanks to the museum’s audiovisual service. The sites of the Orsay and Orangerie museums, launched in early December, will focus on ergonomics and more multidisciplinary content (live shows, conferences). More space will be given to short videos currently posted on social networks.

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