Dreaming of getting back into art spaces

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Museums and galleries reopen their doors with significant changes

During this period of lockdown, while we’ve been cooped up inside our homes, we’ve had time to reflect on those things we can’t be without. For me, more than ever before, I’ve felt the need to immerse myself in culture, listen to music, read poetry, watch the kind of movies that give you a completely new perspective. What I’ve missed the most is being able to visit museums and galleries. What will they be like after lockdown? Will everything be pre-programmed or will there be space for spontaneous visits? What measures are museums taking to ensure safe social distancing? Limited numbers and minimum distances of 1.5m or 2m between visitors have the advantage of ensuring that we’ll enjoy the exhibitions with fewer people in each room. Virtual tours have managed to keep art craving under control, but I’ve dreamed of getting back into physical art spaces. For all art lovers, this period has confirmed these visits to be a primary need. In a museum, in a gallery, we realise that everything is transient. Even coronavirus will pass. I’ve reached out to two people who work in the art world to listen to their opinions: José María Goicoechea, Communications Director at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and Adolfo Cayón, Director of Galería Cayón, give us their perspective on these uncertain times and offer answers on how we’ll adapt.

Carolina Verd: The system of international exchanges between museums was already starting to look unsustainable before the pandemic. Now it seems almost impossible. Will this mean that we have to say goodbye to large-scale exhibitions? And for the galleries, which were opening up to wider audiences through initiatives such as “Apertura Madrid Gallery Weekend,” what do you think will happen?

José María Goicoechea: It’s in the very nature of a museum, especially one dedicated to painting, that audiences encounter physical artworks, artworks which belong to the institution (in our case the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection). But also artworks belonging to other museums, galleries or private collections selected according to the curatorial criteria of each exhibition. Exhibitions will continue to be one of the drivers of the museum but the tendency will be toward simpler formats, because of transport and insurance costs but also due to the likely limitations on visitor numbers in the longer term. Will they be worse? I don’t think so. In my experience over these 11 years at the Thyssen Museum (although I wouldn’t call myself an art expert) I’ve observed that many smaller-name shows, with less mass appeal, have nevertheless been outstanding from many viewpoints: the quality of the paintings displayed, the exhibition concept, its originality… Future exhibitions may be smaller (perhaps), cheaper in terms of costs (very likely) but will be of exceptional quality (for sure).

Adolfo Cayón: After lockdown, like all other businesses open to the public, galleries will depend on guidelines issued by the authorities. We couldn’t really say that visitor numbers to galleries have ever been huge, so I imagine we’ll meet the capacity requirements without any difficulty. Another issue is how we approach opening nights. 

CV: What are the health and safety measures in place and when can we visit the Thyssen Museum and Galería Cayón?

JMG: We opened our doors on Saturday 6 June. Our activities will be limited to exhibitions only, meaning that visitors will be able to see the permanent collection and the two temporary exhibitions (“Rembrandt and Amsterdam Portraiture” and “Joan Jonas: Moving Off the Land II”), which have been extended throughout the summer. Capacity is 30%, which means that for the Rembrandt exhibition, 25 people can come in every 15 minutes so that there are no more than 100 visitors at any time (recommended visiting time is 45 minutes); for the Joan Jonas show there can be 65 people and 1,200 in the permanent collection. Printed leaflets and maps have been removed and the information is available to download via codes; we also recommend people acquire their tickets online or by telephone so that they can access the exhibition spaces directly. Gloves are required if visitors enter the museum store and masks are compulsory in the whole building.

AC: In our case, we’ve installed protective panels and hand sanitiser dispensers at the entrances. We’ve also removed the books and press releases, which are available digitally. I’m sure that the exhibitions we haven’t been able to open, such as Alan Charlton and Hernández Pijúan, or others which we haven’t been able to enjoy doing lockdown, will be opened in September. These are two excellent shows which the public should have the opportunity to see at a relaxed pace and I hope the circumstances will allow for that. In terms of art fairs, without a doubt they will continue as they have done until now.

CV: The present situation has obliged art spaces to develop different experiences and continue to enhance their online content, approaching exhibitions in novel ways. During lockdown we’ve been able to enjoy visits and virtual content open to all. Will you continue to offer these virtual experiences beyond the museum’s walls?

JMG: Of course! We were already doing it. Most of the material we’ve shared during these weeks of lockdown already existed and had already been used at some point. We’ve created new resources too, but the idea that our paintings can be enjoyed outside as well as inside our museum has been part of our strategy for a long time. The importance of digital experience will continue to grow and we’ll give it new uses. For example, we’ve just prepared an online guided tour which allows us to add resources (gigapixel, x-ray images etc.) to the explanation, which is not available in the museum halls. We also plan more live broadcasts and to improve our virtual tours. And we’ll keep exploring new routes.

AC: Images have always been an essential sales tool, ever since the first transparencies. But an exhibition is something quite different; the experience of seeing an artwork up close is, fortunately, irreplaceable. 

Perhaps that’s why, for me, that Carolina Verd who enjoys museums and galleries, visiting an art space is much more than a stroll surrounded by works of art. It’s an immersion in the history of humanity. It’s where we find the pointers to our past, to what’s happening in the present, and to what the future might hold.


If only those circles were magical, symbols of the absolute, infinity contained in the perfection of harmony; open circles like the Japanese Enso or those drawn by Jung to find calm and the drive  to go further. Yet these are circles in open spaces, circles we step inside to create a “safe distance” against a virus that roams free. Circles which set limits, circles which represent separation or longed-for protection. If only they were circles of self healing and we could open them… Perhaps, from here, to reach outward.

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes

Music: Dr Symtosizer

Art direction: Oscar Rivilla&Carolina Verd


Main picture and picture number 4: dress by Ba&sh; sneakers by Pepe Jeans courtesy from Globally

Picture 2: dress by Ba&sh; sneakers by Deichmann courtesy from Globally

Picture 3: jumpsuit by Ba&sh; sneakers by Champion courtesy from Globally