The pandemic caused by the Sars-Cov-2 virus has affected the global economy, leaving its mark on every industry and, above all, negatively affecting the arts sector. All branches of art are feeling this crisis, and among them the museums are the ones who felt it most on their skin.
How this crisis caused by the pandemic affected the museums, we have exclusively for the Diplomacy and Commerce Austria magazine with the respected Prof. Dr. Klaus Albrecht Schröder, General Director of the ALBERTINA Museum, spoke.
Shortly before the opening of the Albertina Modern, which was planned for March of this year, the pandemic caused by the Sars-Cov-2 virus came to a lockdown and both Albertina museums had to close or remain closed. To what extent did the lockdown affect the Albertina’s financial year?
Due to the renewed closure, I cannot precisely quantify the loss of income, but we must expect a loss of around 12 million euros. The use of short-time working brought around 900,000 euros, we received 2.8 million euros from the corona fund and we were also able to save over 6 million euros through cancellations and postponements.
Normally we have over 1 million visitors a year, this year it will be a maximum of 300,000. In the eight days before the closure alone, however, the two Albertina locations had 15,000 visitors, as both the opening show in the Albertina Modern and “Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse. The Hahnloser Collection” was nearing its end. But my heart is bleeding that these exhibitions cannot be visited until the end of the term. Due to the lockdown, we now expect higher costs for the return of the 70 international loans.
The rush of visitors over the past few days has shown the population’s vital need to be able to take part in an extraordinary cultural experience: an obviously necessary outlet in these difficult times.
Many museums around the world offered a virtual tour of the museum during the lockdown. Do you think there is potential for future museum business as a result?
We are currently working intensively on new formats for mediation and are testing online tours, digital exhibition tours and expanding our range of videos. The online collections underwent a relaunch in the spring, here you can research the latest technology in our holdings. We have a very good range of social media services and are well positioned internationally. All of this is important to stay relevant, but for me it cannot replace the confrontation with the original work of art.
How does the “new normal” affect the business of the Albertina museums, since museums are no longer allowed to be open to the public as part of pandemic measures?
I am disappointed and saddened that, contrary to the draft regulation, the museums must now be closed. It was neglected to take a differentiated look at the requirements. The museums in particular have behaved in an exemplary manner in recent months. Without any legal requirements, the Albertina introduced the mandatory mask requirement in July for low-level infections and was able to guarantee the minimum distance of one meter.
These measures were very well received by the public in the summer. In addition, it was not taken into account that our ventilation and air conditioning systems completely replace the oxygen in a gallery every 5 to 10 minutes. However, a museum is more than just its exhibition business. Research is ongoing and we are already working intensively on setting up the follow-up exhibitions and catalogs for 2021.
The pandemic has brought about an almost unbelievable turnaround when it comes to museums in countries that operate so-called liberal cultural policies. In the United States, for example, the decision was recently taken to allow museums to trade in works from their own collections. A practice strictly forbidden by the ICOM’s “Code of Ethics” (International Museum Council) as a key document defining the duties and rights of a museum. What is your opinion on this type of business?
There was and is full consensus that sales should only be for repurchase. I’m the last one to throw stones now. This happened out of great need, I understand that. Like the so-called robbery of the mouth, it was driven by necessity; this too is not punished. We are in the middle of a health crisis that will result in an economic crisis.
The aforementioned decision was made so that museums could weather the growing economic crisis using their own resources by selling works of art from their collections. Recently, the Brooklyn Museum of Art sold nine of the ten works auctioned at New York’s Christie’s, including Lucrezia, a sixteenth-century masterpiece by Lucas Cranach Sr. that raised $ 6.6 million for the museum. Can you imagine something like that in Austria?
Fortunately, we don’t have to ask ourselves this question, it is unthinkable in Europe today. Until the 1960s, however, thousands of works from our collection were still sold. This would also be legal; as the owner of the museum, the finance minister can in principle sell works from the federal government. And we could just as well sell works that we as a scientific institution under public law received or acquired as gifts after 1999. However, we are not remotely faced with this question.
At the auction at “Sotheby’s” in New York it was announced that works by Monet, Degas, Miró, Mathis and several other famous artists from the museum’s collection would soon be on offer. Do you think that this type of fundraising takes valuable and important works of art away from the general public forever, hiding them from the eyes of mankind and thus reducing the business of this museum in the future?
There are collectors who see works of art as an object of speculation and there are collectors who share their wealth with the world through works of art. Today you have to collect collectors because the prices of contemporary art have risen so immeasurably that a purchase of first-class works for a museum is only affordable in the rarest of cases. We receive donations from famous artists because as an institution we can promise eternity.
And private collections such as Batliner, Essl or, most recently, Jablonka are closely linked to our house and enable millions of visitors to encounter outstanding works of modernity and the present. But don’t be mistaken when it comes to hiding: As a museum, we are primarily a store of knowledge and only regularly show a small part of our 1.1 million works collection.
What are your plans for the future of the Albertina?
The Albertina Modern has been very well received by the Viennese public in recent months. I would be delighted if the follow-up exhibitions also generate a positive response internationally. I’m in the middle of the preparations for “The Essl Collection” and other exhibitions, together with the new chief curator Angela Stief. I want to get both houses safely through the crisis and continue to realize top-class exhibitions.
How are the preparations for the longingly awaited Modigliani exhibition going?
Unfortunately, the exhibition had to be postponed to autumn 2021, all lenders were very understanding and cooperative. I think a pioneer like Amedeo Modigliani deserves to be accessible to a large audience, but this is not possible for the time being due to travel restrictions. The exhibition “Munch and the Consequences” is also being rescheduled and will not take place until 2022 instead of spring 2021.
What can art and Albertina lovers expect in 2021?
In the spring we will present retrospectives by the two important contemporary artists Michela Ghisetti and Xenia Hausner. You have already been represented at collection presentations several times and are now getting a big stage. In the field of photography, we show masterpieces by Lerski and Sander from the interwar period with “Faces” and, in the summer, the Japanese photographer Araki. From our own collections there will be spectacular presentations based on Schiele and Michelangelo – we are currently still working on the program.
Text: Svetlana Nenadović-Glučac / Diplomacy and Commerce Austria