Art galleries a picture of caution as lockdown restrictions ease


If you've been pining for an in-person art fix don't circle June 1 on your calendar just yet.

None of the major Victorian art galleries contacted by The Age could confirm they would be open next Monday and one, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, said it was aiming for a September reopening.$zoom_0.291%2C$multiply_1.5109%2C$ratio_1.776846%2C$width_1059%2C$x_103%2C$y_572/t_crop_custom/q_62%2Cf_auto/9ee021bfb0bfeb557a5445ecd0476edc5af7f441
Jessica Bridgfoot, director of the Bendigo Art GalleryAmelia Stanwix

A handful of commercial galleries have already opened, but the bigger institutions are still consulting with authorities on how they can admit visitors while protecting their - and their employees' - health.

"There are lots of details to be worked through," said a spokeswoman for the Heide Museum of Modern Art in Bulleen, adding the gallery was "aiming to open as soon as possible". June 1 was "still in the realm of possibility".

An NGV spokeswoman would only say their date of reopening would be announced "in due course" - in the meantime they are "working closely with Creative Victoria to ensure appropriate public health and physical distancing measures are put in place to ensure the safety of our staff and visitors upon reopening".

It is more than simply opening the doors: galleries have to work out how they will manage queues, how to move visitors through the building so distancing rules are not breached, and how they can ensure staff are protected.

On the weekend, Premier Daniel Andrews announced that from one minute before midnight on May 31, public galleries will be allowed to reopen. They would have to apply physical distancing of one person per four square metres, have a limit of 20 patrons per "space", and record contact details for all visitors.

From June 22, the limit lifts to 50 people - however physical distancing would remain.

Jessica Bridgfoot, director of the Bendigo Art Gallery, said they were working towards reopening on the June 6 long weekend - anticipating that as hotels and motels reopen, regional tourism will start to pick up. Their two exhibitions on show have barely been seen - one opened just a day before lockdown, and the other has only been viewed online.

"Bendigo is a weekend destination, and we are as always keen to support the region’s tourism economy," Ms Bridgfoot said.

They are deploying additional cleaning, social distancing signage and markers, and will closely monitor visitor numbers.

"Technically, a gallery is an extremely safe place to be, because there’s actually no reason to touch anything," Ms Bridgfoot said. "You’re not static, you’re on the move, and you can walk the whole length of the building and experience all our exhibitions without touching anything with your hands – it’s really just your feet on the ground."

ACCA, however, currently sits empty and its next exhibition, a sound-and-performance installation by Frances Barrett called Meatus, is not due to open until September.

Artistic director Max Delany said the gallery had, once lockdown hit, planned a six month closure so they didn't commit to exhibitions that would then be cancelled. Instead they focused on a suite of digital projects.

"We will of course review what we have planned in the gallery space, but feel confident that reopening in September is still the best way forward," Delany said.

Several commercial galleries in Melbourne have already reopened, with reduced hours and limited visitor numbers, including This Is No Fantasy in Fitzroy, Station Gallery in South Yarra and MARS in Windsor.

However, Tolarno Gallery in Exhibition Street, which is on the fourth floor, is affected by government guidelines allowing only two people in a lift - and is not yet open.

Director Jan Minchin said: "we're still thinking about how to manage the practical side of things, we don't want visitors queueing and having to wait in the cold".