What you need to know before venturing back out to see art, from safety precautions to the exhibitions still on view.
By Peter Libbey and Nicole Herrington
For New Yorkers who regard their local cultural institutions as unofficial civic symbols, the museum openings that began at the end of August are a welcome sign that the city’s spirit is starting to re-emerge after months of disruption and uncertainty. Broadway theaters remain shuttered, and it’s still impossible to see a movie on the big screen or eat indoors at restaurants, but the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art are finally back.
Several other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, have returned as well, and more will begin to welcome visitors again in the weeks to come. On Saturday, the Brooklyn Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Rubin Museum of Art will be open to the public for the first time since March.
Prospective patrons should be aware of the changes that museums have implemented to keep their guests safe. Some will likely come as no surprise. Masks and social distancing are mandatory, and the number of visitors allowed inside at once is strictly limited. You won’t be able to check your coat or bag, water fountains will be out of commission, food will be largely unavailable, and temperature checks will not be uncommon.
Other new protocols may take some more getting used to. Returning museumgoers need to plan their trips in advance because timed entrance tickets, which were mainly reserved for the most in-demand special exhibitions before the pandemic, are now a necessary tool for regulating the flow of visitors. Be sure to check online, because admissions are being handled slightly differently at every institution. Tickets at the Brooklyn Museum will be sold in 15-minute increments while the Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens, which reopens Sept. 23, will offer access to morning and afternoon sessions. “We realize it’s a challenge to get out to us even when the subway is running under normal circumstances, so we felt the other system wouldn’t work for us,” said Jennifer Lorch, the museum’s deputy director, referring to more specific timed entries.
Freedom of movement within museums will also vary, with the size and setup of each institution dictating how much latitude patrons will have to wander. “We’re creating pathways that will allow you to enjoy the shows but not be colliding with other visitors,” explained Colin Bailey, the director of the Morgan Library & Museum. “We’re trying to keep the curatorial integrity of the layouts but also we want people to walk in certain directions.” Physically larger institutions like the Brooklyn Museum will be able to be less prescriptive.
As the coronavirus situation remains unresolved, many museums are choosing to proceed cautiously even once they have reopened. For the time being, visitors should expect limited schedules and some continued gallery closures. Patrick Charpenel, the executive director of El Museo del Barrio — which at first will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays — is hopeful that these restrictions will be temporary and that his museum will quickly be able to safely increase its hours. “As soon as we see that we’re OK, we will begin expanding until we’re exactly as we were before Covid,” he said.
While the visitor experience at newly reopened New York museums will be somewhat different this fall, the quality of the art on offer remains world class. Curators and directors have worked hard to ensure that patrons have the opportunity to view exhibitions that were cut short or postponed because of the shutdown. Below you’ll find a partial listing of museums that are set to reopen soon, with input from our critics on shows they were able to catch before the pandemic struck. PETER LIBBEY
What’s Open Now
American Folk Art Museum Two exhibitions that pull from the museum’s collection are currently on view: “American Perspectives: Stories From the American Folk Art Museum Collection” and “Six Decades Collecting Self-Taught Art,” both running through Jan. 3. folkartmuseum.org
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