Recently, with optimism and a bit of trepidation, contemporary museums from Western Europe to East Asia and parts of North America have reopened to the public and are already successfully navigating the new realities of safe museumgoing. Others are slated to follow suit very soon.
Tate Modern, London
The Tate Modern delves into sexual politics later this fall with the United Kingdom’s first important survey of the work of South African photographer Zanele Muholi. For the past two decades, Muholi has documented the intimate, sometimes traumatic lives of South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer, and intersex communities, which remain targets of violence and prejudice.
The show, opening on November 5 and running until March 7, 2021, comprises several series of provocative photographs — including “Faces and Phases” (2006–present), “Brave Beauties” (2014), and “Hail the Dark Lioness” (2012–present) — that powerfully challenge stereotypes and taboos.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
On August 29, visitors again began climbing the landmark steps of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, which opened with reduced capacity and all the mandated protocols, including temperature scanning, in place. The relaunch features an exhilarating new show set to run through November 1. “Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle,” organized by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, unveils a seldom-seen series of 30 tempera-on-board panels from Lawrence’s 1954–56 magnum opus, Struggle . . . From the History of the American People.
Another intriguing event, opening October 29, is the Met Costume Institute’s “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” which brings together 120 garments from the past century and a half — from an 1870s silk-faille Victorian dress to Alexander McQueen’s 1995 Bumster skirt — in galleries set up as enormous clock faces, with “ghost narration” by Virginia Woolf.
Montreal Museum of Fine Art
It’s hard to imagine a more exuberant emergence from lockdown than “Paris in the Days of Post-Impressionism: Signac and the Indépendants,” a colossal show comprising more than 500 lushly colored paintings and graphic works that were just days away from launching this past March when the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, like so many others, suddenly closed its doors.
The doors were unlocked on July 4, and visitors can now restore their souls until November 15 with works by such perennial favorites as Raoul Dufy, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and other assorted Fauvists, Symbolists, and portrayers of life in late-19th-century Paris, as well as by their unfairly obscure female contemporaries, like Eva Gonzalès, Marie Laurencin, and Berthe Morisot.
Contemporary museums are repositories of great art, which is often grand in scale and displayed in monumental or historic surroundings, require the physical presence of human beings to wholly fulfill their purpose (and, not incidentally, to sustain themselves financially). Art is a form of solace as well as aesthetic delight, and museums are places of contemplation and reflection, all of which the world’s citizens need now more than ever.
Rembrandt’s majestic 1642 painting The Night Watch has been the subject of an extraordinary ongoing research and conservation project at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum since 2018. For most of the spring, “Operation Night Watch” could be viewed only online. The contemporary museum reopened on June 1, and as of July 8, guests can observe the conservators at work within a glass chamber, learning about the painstaking conservation process as a robot camera takes thousands of extremely high-resolution photos. This is the latest and by far the most high-tech of the 25 treatments that the 14-foot-wide group portrait of the members of a militia company has received in its long lifetime.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
An ambitious exhibition uniting three great Japanese museum collections resumed in July, with the reopening of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Its subject is ukiyo-e, a populist print and painting genre that arose during the Edo period (17th –19th centuries) and sparked an appreciation of Japanese art among Western nations that continues to this day.
The exhibition, which runs through September 22, presents 450 ukiyo-e masterpieces: paintings and woodblock prints of such scenes and subjects as kabuki actors, sumo wrestlers, erotica, and landscapes, including the artist Hokusai’s universally celebrated The Great Wave off Kanagawa from the circa-1830 series of Mount Fuji views. An exhibition of contemporary Japanese calligraphy, part of a series showcasing work by members of the public, opens November 18.
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis relaunched in July with an exhibition that was forced to close shortly after opening in February: “An Art of Changes: Jasper Johns Prints 1960–2018” presents six decades of the American master’s printmaking practice.
The retrospective features 90 intaglio, lithographic, woodcut, linoleum-cut, screen-printed, and lead-relief artworks. Organized in thematic sections tied to Johns’s favored Pop motifs — the American flag, serifed numerals, and the letters of the alphabet — it continues through January 3, 2021.