After the lockdown: Art is part of the basic service

Ggalleries should be among the first to open again. Because in Germany only a few art dealers use more than 800 square meters of retail space. A few days ago, Chancellor Angela Merkel and the state premiers discussed possible easing of the measures imposed due to the corona pandemic. And exceptions can apply to smaller shops from Monday onwards – with requirements for hygiene, for controlling access and to avoid queues.

Queues are not to be expected at galleries. Some retailers, such as in Berlin, have even moved their retail space from the ground floor to the higher floors in recent years because the general public is secondary in the art trade. Political plans are still good news for the galleries. Most of their customers, collectors, therefore, not only want to have a direct look at art, they are also looking for a discreet conversation with the gallery owner. Digital viewing rooms and tours on Instagram can hardly replace that.

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It had started with the cancellation of the first trade fairs in spring. And since Tefaf in Maastricht, which ended prematurely due to corona infections, the art scene has been completely at a standstill. Smaller galleries in particular are now threatened by the week-long lockdown: half of the galleries in Germany generate annual sales of between 50,000 and 200,000 euros, only a seventh of the art dealers turn over more than 500,000 euros a year.

This is how Kristian Jarmuschek and Birgit Maria Sturm, the chairman and managing director of the Federal Association of German Galleries and Art Dealers, put it. The federal and state grants for the creative industries could also apply for galleries. The deferral of taxes and artists’ social security contributions, the moderation of insolvency law and other subsidies make sense, “but in the end a drop in the bucket,” said Jarmuschek and Sturm. “Operation successful, patient dead?”

The museums have also been closed for weeks. The contact restrictions imposed on the spread of the corona pandemic in Germany should in principle be extended to at least May 3, but cultural institutions such as libraries and archives, zoos and botanical gardens should reopen. Museums may well feel addressed there too. Fortunately, most of the public institutions in Germany are somewhat protected by subsidies in order to survive the closure. However, the loss of income is particularly hard on the houses, especially the large institutions.

Millions in revenue

The Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK) organizes around 50 special exhibitions each year in its 19 houses and 15 collections in Berlin. “On the part of our donors, we receive 1.5 million euros anchored in the budget for this, an average of between six and eight million euros are spent,” explains Christina Haak, the deputy general director of the State Museums in Berlin (SMB). “Every month the museums are closed, however, we have reduced earnings of up to two million euros. We lack this active money for the program work. ”

The losses can currently be compensated for. Haak is concerned about the financial situation of the many small business owners who work with SPK and SMB, for example freelance graphic designers. “These livelihoods are threatened if we cannot make posters for special exhibitions and cannot publish catalogs.” It is now important to support these partners, Haak said, and to continue the cooperation when the museums reopen.

The opening could come faster than many museum directors expected. But what will the opening look like? Ulrike Groos, the director of the Stuttgart Art Museum, suspects that social and cultural life will only slowly start up again. “Be human,” she said, “show a different, rather hesitant behavior than before the shutdown, a change will be noticeable.” The Director General of the Bavarian State Painting Collections, Bernhard Maaz, also understands the Corona break not as a cultural standstill. People would now reflect on how they could substitute social proximity with spatial distance for the place of cinema, theater, concert and museum.

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In contrast to theater or concert, the audience in the museum does not necessarily appear crowded. For this reason, the exhibition houses will probably have the priority in the next few weeks to be the first to resume cultural activities. Smaller ones such as the Museum of the West Coast on Foehr can return to normal business relatively quickly – provided that the tourists are also allowed to translate back to the North Sea island. The strategy after the lockdown is derived from the activities during the closure, says museum director Ulrike Wolff-Thomsen, namely to push ahead with digital innovations. For many museums, the Corona crisis had at least this positive side effect: adapting the online presence in a contemporary way.

Catharsis is waiting at Lake Constance

Claudia Emmert from the Zeppelin Museum for Art and Technology in Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance goes one step further. She wants to incorporate the impact of the crisis into her next exhibition, “Beyond States”, which was supposed to introduce the limits of our understanding of state responsibility from May. The offbeat prepper scene, which prepares for the collapse of the state with hamster purchases, conspiracy theories and bunker mentality, was an issue even before the virus spread. Now it is up to date for society as a whole. The show will now open with a “digital first act on state power in times of Corona”, the exhibition follows in December. And the follow-up is already being planned, as a “digital catharsis”, says Emmert.

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Police officers from a special unit go to a property in Banzkow (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) on 28.08.2017. Officials from the BKA and the Federal Police search apartments and business premises in several locations in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. There is suspicion of preparing a violent act that could endanger the state. (on dpa «Anti-terrorist raid in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania - attacks on the left?» from 28.08.2017) Photo: Jens Büttner / dpa-Zentralbild / dpa

Retailers have to hope that they can hold out for so long and not address the cathartic side effects of the pandemic right now. That would not only be an economic, but a cultural damage. Because the museums are not solely responsible for the basic supply of art. With this in mind, the opening of the art market is also called for.

At the same time, one hears the question of who should buy art in these times, when not only Prepper toilet paper and dry yeast are hamsters. But why not? Works of art may seem more than a luxury product to some at the moment, but collectors have always used their money to follow their passion. With their investment, they support the artists – and the gallery owners who convey their art – more than just buying objects.


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