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What will an art gallery or museum visit be like once they open their doors?

Some galleries are trying to make the experience as normal as possible.

The team in the National Gallery prepare for the re-opening.
The team in the National Gallery prepare for the re-opening.
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

IN A NORMAL July, the National Gallery in Dublin would welcome 50,000 people from around the world. When doors re-open at the end of June, visitors desperate to see paintings by the likes of Caravaggio and Vermeer will notice a few changes.  

And while these changes are certainly a shift from the everyday experience, museums staff are stressing that some things might be new – but the experience can still feel familiar. 

“I think we’d like the experience for the visitor to be as normal as possible,” says Kim Smit, the National Gallery’s Head of Collections and Research. ”

So how normal is normal? TheJournal.ie got a tour of the gallery to see exactly what visitors can expect come 29 June. 

What’s changed?

In the National Gallery, many things remain the same. Jack B Yeats paintings hang in the same positions in one wing of the gallery, near the Clare Street entrance a room full of contemporary works by Monet and Picasso is identical to how it looked several months ago. 

But like other galleries and museums, the National Gallery also carried out a health and safety assessment in the weeks before the re-opening. 

It’s hard to ignore gaudy yellow arrows directing visitors through a one-way system, no mean feat in the labyrinthine, cavernous National Gallery. 

These one-way systems, designed to keep people safe and from crossing paths, will likely be a feature of other galleries. 

Also new are the glut of hand sanitising stations dotted across the rooms, while lifts will be reserved for only one person each. 

There will also be no audio guides anymore, so you might need to do some pre-reading if you’re visiting. 

Apart from that, little has changed. Much of that is intentional, says Smit. 

“Unless absolutely necessary, we are not going to change the experience in how the works are hanging,” she says. 

coronavirus-thu-jun-25-2020 Claude Monet's Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat will be available to be viewed from 29 June. Source: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Standing beside the ever-popular painting of the Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, Smit said that the gallery might re-consider how paintings are hung and could re-think some room configurations if popular paintings caused crowding. 

“There is a sense to these spaces and there is a connection of the works and the paintings around them, so we’d like to keep it this way but we can re-think it and our curatorial team can look at what can work better,” she said. 

“Thankfully, the Caravaggio is in quite a big space so there is plenty of people who can be here. But yes, you may have to view it either a little from a distance or wait for other people to move on.”

Are all galleries and museums open on 29 June?

No. Some museums and galleries will re-open in the days following 29 June, while others will have phased or delayed re-openings. 

The National Gallery will open only part of its exhibition from 29 June, with European Art from 1850 to 1950 on show, then on 13 July many of the rooms in the Milltown Wing will re-open and people will be asked to enter from the Merrion Square side. 

A few days later on 20 July, all remaining rooms and wings should re-open. 

So if you’re desperate to see your Caravaggio, you may have to wait a few weeks after 29 June to get a chance to stand in front of the painting again.

Do I need to wear a mask?

That depends on the museum or gallery. The National Gallery is asking people to follow public health guidance on social distancing, but it is not making mask-wearing mandatory indoors. 

coronavirus-thu-jun-25-2020 People will once again be able to visit the various wings of the National Gallery. Source: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Will it be busy?

It depends. In the National Gallery, a dearth of international tourists will mean the building is likely to be much less busy than normal. 

The spacious rooms and grand wings mean that there should be plenty of space for social distancing. 

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This is likely to be a similar experience in many other places. With tourism unlikely to fully pick-up, even if quarantine measures are lifted, many attractions will remain much quieter than normal for weeks to come. 

In other smaller museums and galleries, more stringent approaches will likely be necessary. At the award-winning 14 Henrietta Street museum in Dublin, which is based in an old tenement house, staff are reducing the capacity of guided tours and will be advising all visitors to book in advance. 

The museum has also introduced a private group tour for people who might want to stay in family or household groups for visits.  

How safe are museums and galleries? 

As we re-open the country, health officials have stressed that risks haven’t gone away. However, the coming weeks and months will be all about managing risk. 

Public health guidance suggests that well-aerated spaces and outdoor areas are safer, but this doesn’t mean you’ll see galleries and museums with doors and windows thrown open all day. 

Indeed, galleries (and some museums) are actually familiar with the intricacies of ventilation – maintaining a steady, well-regulated air flow is crucial in protecting paintings. Luckily for visitors, that’s also a benefit when it comes to keeping areas safe from Covid-19. 

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