Small museums kick-start Paris' post-lockdown cultural season

By Arnab Béranger - RFI
MAY 16, 2020 LISTEN

Smaller museums in France have been authorised to open in the early stages of the lifting of the Covid-19 lockdown. One of them is the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, which reopened Friday with an exhibition by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon – under tight social distancing and hygiene restrictions.

The Giacometti Foundation in Paris, dedicated the work of Italian painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, was inaugurated in 2018.  But after two years, just as the museum space was gaining momentum, Covid-19 shut its doors. 

On Friday, four days after the French government began easing lockdown measures, the museum reopened with an exhibition by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon. 

'Important social role'

"Museums have a social role to play. It's very important that culture goes hand in hand with society as social life starts again," the foundation's director Catherine Grenier tells RFI. "Whenever possible, culture has to be present in society, whatever the circumstances may be." 

Grenier says the museum's set-up is perfectly adapted to the circumstances.

"In a 'blockbuster' museum, people are on top of each other. We have always preferred intimate ambiances with a limited number of visitors," she explains. "This way, they may best interact with the works."

Art and hygiene

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of visitors inside the Giacometti Foundation's exhibition space was restricted. 

Under present circumstances, only ten people are allowed in at a time. Face masks are compulsory, and a bottle of hand sanitiser awaits visitors at the entrance.

The Museum of Illusions, another recent cultural institution in Paris, opened its doors on 11 May, the first day of lockdown in France. 

So will Covid-19 prove to be a boon for smaller and newer galleries in Paris, as mammoths like the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre remain shut? 

"At least for a while, people will want to come more to these small spaces. There is a desire for art, a desire to be in contact with the works in the real world. This is a model that can be developed in the future," says Grenier.

Social distancing: an artist's view

Searching for Lost Works, by Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, features a little library that is shut to the public. A sculpted hand clutches a railing in front. 

"It's a gesture related to social distancing," the museum's artistic director Christian Alandete tells RFI. "We can't touch artworks – we can't even touch someone else's hand."

Created before the pandemic, Searching for Lost Works was originally about how a museum visitor cannot touch the works of another artist. But that changed after Covid-19. 

"Artworks can be associated with two contexts: the context in which they were created, and later in the context in which they are seen," says Alandete, adding that the pandemic forced both artist and curator to adapt. 

The exhibition also highlights works by Giacometti, as well as a reconstruction of the artist's studio in Paris' 14th district. 

'Culture is in our genes'

Marie-Christine, a timid and elderly visitor, took the train from suburban Sceaux to see the exhibition. As she walks around the 350 square-metre museum space, she tells RFI she was thrilled to be visiting a museum after two months.  

"Culture in Paris and in France is in our genes," she says. "Little by little, people will be back."  

Searching for Lost Works is on until 21 June at the Giacometti Foundation in Paris, and is free for students and those under 18.

Don't forget to bring your own face mask.

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