As September introduces the first cool winds of Autumn I thought it would be interesting, to me at least, to review how the four art galleries I visited in August dealt with the opening in the ‘New Normal‘ world we now live in.
The Hepworth, Wakefield
There was a very relaxed atmosphere at the gallery, we visited within a day or two of it opening. The only real sign that this was the new normal was the need to provide contact details before entering the building and the obligatory perspex screens protecting staff and visitors at information desks and shops. Beyond this it was business as usual so long as don’t get too concerned about wearing a mask which I always think is a small price to pay for reigniting my creative engine. Perhaps the only downside was the closure of the really good restaurant on site but given the circumstances it is understandable.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP)
This was the first time I have been in a crowd for over six months. There was a clear and simple to understand pathway to follow through the galleries and they had managed to open up their restaurant which was a bonus. Unfortunately, the people at the entrance of the main building didn’t seem to be too concerned about keeping 2 metres apart but then again this was on the side of a rather windswept hill and wasn’t repeated inside the buildings nor galleries. The seating in the restaurant was well spaced out which allowed people from different bubbles (a new normal term!) to sit more than two metres apart
Derby Museum and Art Gallery
This was the first time I had visited a city centre since the whole craziness had started and I just didn’t know how the gallery would handle everything. The answer is brilliantly. When you entered the building there was a machine that measured your temperature and then dispensed gel for you to wash your hands with – simple but perfect solution. After that the staff had really worked hard on a revamp of the museum so that now you followed a curated walk rather than the usual confusing mix of odments with a world class collection of 18th century art. The little cafe was opened and it was clean and airy which helped to make the experience.
The last gallery and the one I felt most disappointed about. Not that the staff were anything other than helpful but the visit lacked any of the spontaneity of the other galleries. Here you were allotted a time and you were then escorted around the gallery. There was none of the freedom to take the art in at a pace that suited the viewer instead you had 15 minutes in one gallery then half an hour in the other and you were escorted between the two and told when your time was up.
The exhibition itself was up to the usual high standards we have come to expect at Compton Verney but all the life had been sucked out of the experience. We asked the staff about the arrangements and they stated they were following the instructions given to them by the government and I am sure that was the case. However, when you compare the Compton Verney experience with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park then they clearly spoke to different people. They are both art galleries set in hundreds of acres of parkland where people come with their young children to run around. They both hold world class exhibitions and yet one was laid back whilst still ensuring the safety of their guest and staff whilst the other seemed to have taken a much more regimented approach that, for me, diminished the experience which is shame because I really appreciate Compton Verney and all they try and do. Hopefully, as things settle down they will find a way of opening up a bit more without compromising safety – perhaps talk to YSP?