Yes, museums are closed and hairdressers are not. But 2020 is still an opportunity to grow

It's true: it has not been a good year for museums. And still today they are closed all over Italy, not knowing when they will reopen. As opposed to hairdressers. All negative? No: 2020 is an opportunity to renew, upgrade, grow. Here's how and what the positive trends are.

We have realized that it is better to stop programming and that learning to improvise with style has become one of the new musts. We have been trying for decades to create assemblages in small museums and contemporary art galleries especially those that manifest a particular bent for research. We don’t succeed even if we want to with all our might. It is a different matter for the caterers of the Biennale or for large museums such as the Uffizi and the Doge’s Palace in Venice for which inclusion in the list of places at risk is more than understandable. But in the remaining 95 percent of places deputed to culture scattered throughout the country, the same conditions do not manifest themselves at all. I could understand the reasons for such a generalized intervention if the virus were in the hands of iconoclastic extremists intent on destroying all artistic expression and with it all mankind that admires it. But, fortunately, this is not the case. Is it correct to establish such a general regulation that equates museums characterized by large tourist flows (which in any case are certainly not crowded right now) with small museums or public galleries dealing with contemporary art?

Among the many to be seen in these months, a photo that a friend took a few days ago at lunchtime gave me pause: there one could easily admire a crowd consisting of dozens of people cheerfully gathered with cup in hand in front of some small bars at the foot of a large closed museum. However, it is not my intent to point the finger at the government’s decisions, much less to blame those who enjoy their aperitifs for a while; rather, I take the opportunity here for a confession.

I was the director of a museum center for four years, and although I had a lot of fun and with the whole team achieved good results, I realized that there is still a lot of work to be done for what I would call the self-assertion of the protagonists (even the smallest ones) of culture: from artists to curators, museum directors, gallery directors, and all those who revolve around this wonderful world. We are used to waiting for a mayor, if it is civic museums, the minister, if it is state museums etc.. to come to support us both financially and “morally,” to recognize our competence and to make the big decisions on our behalf.

For the past eight months there have been unified and coordinated movements that have catalyzed diverse professionalism in the light of common goals such as the Contemporary Art Forum, Italics, Art Workers Italia but I have the impression that there has been an attempt to make up for a pre-existing vacuum that, in this sudden emergency, has made the potential and functions of coordination even more evident and urgent. Could this have prevented the closure of small museums? Perhaps, until December 2019, we had not questioned ourselves enough about the need to constitute ourselves into solid and recognized bodies, perhaps we had too often let our activity prevail at the expense of what might have been a corporate attitude, perhaps we did not even sense the need. Yet I think it was glaringly apparent when, at the first fall dpcm, the Prime Minister announced as the only exception to the closures imposed in red zones that of the hairdressing category. It may be true that at an important skype-call one cannot arrive disheveled and that personal care should not be prevented for anyone, but for me, as for other people I frequent for work reasons, the need to visit a museum is clearly prioritized over hair dressing. Perhaps we were not as good as the hairdressers. I would really like to meet the spokesman of that category, ask him how he achieved so much, and why not, invite him to look after our interests as well.

Visitatori alla Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo di Brescia dopo la riapertura del 18 maggio
Visitors to Brescia’s Tosio Martinengo Picture Gallery after the May 18 reopening

In the meantime, however, there has also been no silence, and important opportunities have also occurred: calls for collaboration have been issued, new directors have been appointed. The Ministry has given great opportunity for everyone to get involved and benefit, but once again, we have responded in almost total autonomy. Private entities, such as foundations and collections, architectural firms and universities, also promoted calls for artists and calls for projects, study days were held, meetings (all online, of course) where anyone had a chance to express their thoughts. For my part I continued to do studio seen (on skype when not possible live), met new artists and wrote a lot, this time more focused.

My semiotic training would require me to address, now, a semantic analysis of the recurring terms of this 2020: uncertainty, fragility, hyper-narrative, just to give examples, continue to be lemmas that address the artist or curator as an individual as if “before” these actors had been absolutely certain of their future, solid as rocks and silent in social media. In reality, the context has changed and this requires us to read the subject differently. I firmly believe that 2020 is an unmissable opportunity to renew, update and grow: the time to found a new Renaissance. We have repeatedly read the wish of many to be united, to face this moment together, and to recognize that it is necessary to be ’soft’ in order to fall well, to err in the best way possible. We have sensed that it is better to stop planning and that learning to improvise with style has become one of the new musts.

The protagonist in newspapers, on TV or in bar talk is always him, the virus. A virus that behaves as such, spreads rapidly and incessantly even in our thoughts and dialogues, and as a respectable virus it has managed to be injected even into the world of contemporary art production. I have seen artists who have painted it, brought it to life in stop motion movies, sculpted it, and made it into music. Italian artists reacted by producing, by studying, and many of them finally realized that the process of returning to the artistic languages of tradition, such as painting to which we give new importance in the last decade, was in fact a premonition. The digital tools that have granted the narrative of these nine months have once again become what they are: tools for conveying a deep attachment to history and the most cultured heritage. I have read projects of great depth, the outcome of in-depth studies, I have felt a more solid awareness in the telling of content. Perhaps it is thanks to the time we gave ourselves, to the absence of meeting and confrontation that allowed us to look better within ourselves, behind in history and in our roots, and to return to real study abandoning all temptation to hyper-production and seeking that focus that the frenetic succession of events had obscured.

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