French galleries and 'small museums' to reopen in stages from 11 May

Larger museums are unlikely to be accessible until June

Galleries and smaller museums will be re-opening in the second week of May after lockdown © Fran Boloni

Galleries and smaller museums will be re-opening in the second week of May after lockdown © Fran Boloni

Galleries and “small museums” in France could reopen from 11 May, during the first stage of the country's “deconfinement” strategy, according to guidelines outlined by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe in parliament yesterday afternoon. But gatherings will be restricted to no more than ten people and reopening dates will vary between locations.

Philippe emphasised the importance of social distancing measures and the use of masks and lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted. Access to masks for the public has so far been problematic due to the priority of health-care needs but should become more widely available soon, he said.

While the definition of “small museums” was left undefined, the reopening of “large museums” is not envisaged until after 2 June. Different areas of France have been variously affected by the spread of coronavirus. So, on 7 May, Philippe will differentiate between “red” areas, where there is a high occurrence of Covid-19, and “green” areas where there is a lower risk, in order to determine the severity of measures to be implemented on a local level.

The Fondation Giacometti in Paris, a small establishment, is planning to reopen on 15 May. “We've decided to open soon because it's important to serve the public and reintroduce people to artworks after this virtual-viewing period and to say, symbolically, that the world is starting again and that culture is here,” Catherine Grenier, the foundation's director, tells The Art Newspaper. “We're asking people to register online to enable us to have small groups of ten people every 20 minutes and to come wearing masks.”

Many small museums are still awaiting clarification on the rules from the culture ministry before deciding on their reopening dates. Opening dates are being considered between 11 May and the beginning of July.

Meanwhile, Marion Papillon, the president of the Professional Committee of Art Galleries (CPGA), says: “Galleries, as 'traders', may open from 11 May, subject to 'departmental authorisation' but we're seeking more detail around the authorised number of people in a space at the same time [which] should depends on the surface size of the gallery.”

The dealer Thaddaeus Ropac says to his "surprise" his gallery in the Marais in Paris will be opening with a smaller team on 12 May, before reopening in Austria on 2 June. “We have a big installation by Antony Gormley in our Marais gallery that closed two days after the opening in March, which was very upsetting for the artist. I'm very optimistic and we hope that the Paris audience will start coming back.” The gallery has ordered around a 1,000 masks for visitors. Ropac's larger space in Pantin, outside of Paris, will open on 2 June, during the second stage of France's lockdown easing.

Daniel Templon is also planning to reopen on 11 May. “There's a strong desire among our visitors and collectors to come back and see art; we've extended our current shows of Norbert Bisky and Billie Zangewa and are planning our next show, Chiharu Shiota, on 30 May,” he says. “Our galleries are quite spacious and there's plenty of room for visitors to keep the necessary social distancing.”

Chantal Crousel is planning a “gradual” reopening, first appointment-only and then an invitation-only closing event for Thomas Hirschhorn and Clément Rodzielski's exhibitions. “We think it's very important to propose a strong 'come-back' in mid-June with a new exhibition of Rirkrit Tiravanija, which will constitute a strong sign of recovery and positive energy,” says partner Niklas Svennung. “We have to react together to this transformed world.”

Highlighting the struggles ahead for small galleries, Anne-Sarah Bénichou says her team “has been reduced to two people”. She is preparing to open Chourouk Hriech's new exhibition later in May and “will be working a lot by appointment”. Despite the difficulties, she says: “Art brings us poetry [...] and galleries enable the livelihood of a large number of people – transporters, framers, installers – and, of course, artists who more than ever need sales to resume.”