BY Pablo Larios in News | 10 MAR 20

What Toll Will COVID-19 Take On Europe’s Arts? A Letter from Italy

As Italy comes under full lock-down, surveying the effects of a global health emergency

BY Pablo Larios in News | 10 MAR 20

Courtesy: Timo Lenzen 

Update from 13 March: since publishing this article, a growing number of museums and galleries across Europe have temporarily closed amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Art Brussels will now take place in June; Art Cologne has been moved to November. Berlin Gallery Weekend will now take place twice this year: the regular exhibtions will take place in May, with the invite-only programming saved for an additional September event. Refresh this page for continued updates.

It’s eerie to watch as COVID-19 ravages spring’s art events and cultural venues: in Europe alone, we’ve seen the Salone del Mobile postponed; miart art fair and Milan Art Week held over to September; the Louvre, closed for three days; Art Paris set back two months; book fairs in London and Leipzig cancelled; Venice Architecture Biennale moved back; Frankfurt’s music trade fair suspended; the world’s biggest travel trade fair, in Berlin, scrapped; Italy’s schools and colleges shuttered; and last week, a major Raphael show in Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale, open to acclaim – only to shut down on Sunday.

There’s speculation about whether Europe’s spring art hopscotch, Art Brussels, Art Cologne and Berlin Gallery Weekend, will go on as planned. Just yesterday, all of Italy came under lockdown. That’s 60 million people in quarantine.

Transmission, miart 2020 campaign. Photography: Alessandro Furchino Capria

Already the economic effects of COVID-19 are staggering, estimated at trillions worldwide. What are its cultural implications?

It was Pier Paolo Pasolini’s birthday on Friday, and over the weekend I revisited his 1971 rendition of Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron – set in the heyday of the Black Plague, where quarantined storytellers distract themselves from the plague by spinning tales. The Triennale di Milano, frieze’s contributing editor Barbara Casavecchia tells me, is digitally streaming talks, events and performances on Instagram in a series titled, fittingly, ‘Decameron’.

Pier Paolo Pasolini, Decameron, film still,1971. Courtesy: the artist and YouTube

On the ground in Milan, Casavecchia wrote to me over the weekend: ‘As the first European country severely hit by the virus, Italy is facing a drastic embargo on visual and live arts, resulting in the cancellation of festivals, lectures, plays, concerts, performances and all public events until 4 April 2020. The public healthcare system is under extreme pressure, so containing the contagion is key.’

She continues: ‘In Rome, the MAXXI is at work on a reinstallation of the collection of Italian art to celebrate the first decennial of the museum. The city’s MACRO museum will reopen on April 24 with the exhibition ‘Museo per l'Immaginazione Preventiva’ (Museum for Preventive Imagination), conceived by the new director Luca Lo Pinto. A public museum coming back to life after a long hibernation, and with free entrance, is most definitely good news, so let’s stop here. With a disclaimer: like most things in life, dates are subject to change. And we know that already.’ 

Rirkrit Tiravanija, La Paura Mangia L’Anima (Fear Eats the Soul), 2020. Courtesy: the artist and Fondazione Converso, Milan; photograph: t-space studio

It’s unclear how deep COVID-19 will affect the world in the coming weeks and months. For the moment, this begs the question: what would the art world look like if – due to some combination of travel or environmental catastrophe – it ceased traveling, momentarily?

In the short term, it’d be bad for business. But I have long argued for the necessity of a re-localization in the arts: focusing on place, rather than depending on an accelerating pace of cross-continental travel, events, fairs and far-off shows. At the risk of parochialism, some sitting-still might actually benefit culture.

Albertina Modern, Vienna. Photograph: © Rupert Steiner

Elsewhere in Europe:

TEFAF Maastricht kicked off on Saturday, to lukewarm attendance, despite COVID-19 warnings – reportedly, a few important US museums (including the Met and the Getty) didn’t send curators; with about 30% fewer attendance on the first preview day compared to 2019.

16th Lyon Biennale confirmed its curators, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath. It will open in September 2021.

A new museum for Austria: Albertina Modern opens on 13 March 2020, with a survey of art in Vienna from 1945 to 1980.

Paris’s Musée d’Orsay announced a major expansion, set to open in 2026.

Pati Hill, Alphabet of Common Objects (hair curlers), 1977–79, xerography, 278 × 22 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Pati Hill Collection, Arcadia University

Oslo’s Picasso murals, two reliefs built in 1970 (with artist Carl Nesjar) on government buildings in Norway’s capital, are about to be demolished. The buildings are associated with Anders Breivik’s terrorist attack in 2011, which took place on the site.

A newly-restored painting of David and Goliath (from the late 1630s), once attributed to a male artist, was revealed to be an Artemisia Gentileschi.

In their annual prizes, Germany’s Association of Art Critics has given an accolade to Kunst-Werke’s exhibition ‘The Making of Husbands: Christina Ramberg in dialogue’ – one of my favourites in Berlin last year. Read our review here.

In late February, Pinchuk Art Center plunged into a crisis and dismissed its guides amid a unionization row. (Read about ‘museums and plutocrats’ in frieze.)

The entire staff of France’s Cahiers du Cinema resigned amid new ownership of the storied film magazine.

Further details have been released about Berlin’s Humboldt Forum. Already delayed, it’s now set to open this fall, in stages, within a reconstruction of Berlin’s royal palace.

Steve Reinke, ‘Butter’, exhibition view, 2020. Courtesy: the artist and Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin; photograph: Stephan Wyckoff ©mumok

On Our Radar… 

Jan van Eyck at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent
Pati Hill at Kunstverein Munich
Steven Parrino at Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein
Tal R at Tim van Laere, Antwerp
Rachel Rose at Lafayette Anticipations, Paris
Kara Walker at Sprüth Magers, Berlin
Evelyn Taocheng Wang at Kevin Space, Vienna
Laura Langer at Portikus, Frankfurt
Sara Deraedt in Etablissement d'en Face, Brussels
Steve Reinke at Mumok, Vienna

(Thanks to Barbara Casavecchia for her letter from Milan.)

Pablo Larios is an editor and writer. He lives in Berlin, Germany.