At this time last year, it seemed like we were ready to turn our gaze back to the live art experience after the worst of the pandemic was behind us. Now, more than a year after the first doses of the vaccine, the art world is facing another excruciating setback. Museums are closing, art fairs are being canceled and the start of 2022 seems as bleak as it was in spring 2020, when the The global art world came to a screeching halt for the first time.
Powered by the maliciously contagious variant of Omicron, COVID-19 cases in the United States have hit a new high averaging more than 265,000 daily, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University. With about 284.5 million cases and more than 5.4 million deaths worldwide, the US leads with 54.4 million cases and about 843,250 deaths, according to real-time statistics reference website Worldometer.
The four Smithsonian institutions – the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the National Museum of Asian Art (Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) – closed today and are scheduled to reopen 3 January 2022. The Smithsonian said it was responding to “an increase in positive Covid cases and related quarantine periods among our essential and operational staff.”
Museums already have important precautions in place to ensure the safety of staff and visitors, and stricter rules are likely to be put in place to prevent long-term closings.
The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the busiest art museum in the country, has already reduced capacity and warned visitors to prepare for longer lines and waiting outside the museum on Monday, all visitors 12 and older must provide proof of full vaccination. New York City requires all visitors over the age of 5 to provide proof of at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
“For the safety of staff and visitors, capacities are limited. We may stop admitting visitors towards the end of the day if we’re busy, ”The Met said.
The Brooklyn Museum has also stopped selling refreshments and has temporarily suspended personal tours and programs. The Noguchi Museum in Queens was closed last week due to rising COVID-19 cases.
Museums across the country are temporarily closing their doors or taking other measures to curb the rapid spread of Omicron.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press conference earlier this month that all non-essential stores, including the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelijk Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, will be closed until January 14th. Days earlier, the European Fine Art Foundation announced that the 35th edition of TEFAF Maastricht, originally scheduled for March 12-20, would be postponed due to escalating fear of global volatility from COVID-19.
In advance of Rutte’s decision, the Dutch Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced the closure of all public venues, including cinemas, museums and art galleries, by mid-January.
Most museums and galleries have mastered the digital exhibition after trying to retain viewers and buyers during the first wave of closings, but there is no substitute for experiencing art in person.