Apollo Magazine (UK)
They flash upon that inward eye / Which is the bliss of solitude’. Wordsworth, like many of his Romantic peers, was partial to being alone. Those lines – yes, on daffodils – hail its imaginative opportunities, pulling together creative vision and a type of happiness that is dependent on solitude, so that as you read and re-read the words the two things become versions of one another. As Seamus Perry reminds us in this issue, however, in an essay about Wordsworth and painting, the lines were concocted by Wordsworth’s wife, Mary – and as such, they leaven solitude with a type of company or kinship (see Feature, pp. 50–55).
Finding ways to be together while alone is a challenge that many, if not all of us, are likely to face in the coming weeks or months as the coronavirus pandemic plays out. At the time of writing, several European nations have followed Italy’s lead in placing their entire populations in quarantine, while restrictions on movement and public gatherings are in force in many other countries. I am writing this the morning after the UK government advised the British public to avoid all non-essential social contact and warned that those most vulnerable to the virus will soon be asked to stay at home for three months or more. By the time you read it, who knows where we will be?
It feels incidental to speak of the effect that the pandemic has had on the art and museum worlds, or at least to single them out, given that the virus has impinged on the lives of the entire global population. But for those of us for whom museums, in particular, are a touchstone in that world, the international wave of museum closures has been a disquieting corollary of the wider situation – as well as a reminder of the liberties and opportunities that such places stand for. Many, if not all, of the museums and exhibitions discussed in these pages closed temporarily after those articles had been prepared for press: the Knoxville Museum of Art, LACMA, Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, the Musée d’Orsay, the Muzeum Susch, the Fondation Beyeler. It is hard to comprehend such measures in peacetime, let alone process the anxieties that attend them. But I hope that you will find some distraction, perhaps even solace, in reading about exhibitions and collections from afar and devising imaginary or future excursions.
It is to be hoped, so far as is possible, that curators and other museum staff working remotely will be able to bring collections to their house-bound audiences by making use of digital platforms. In a time of plenty, such projects have sometimes – though not always – seemed extraneous to the core work of the museum; in a time of constraint, they must prove central to it. Video content or events, digital archives, museum websites and social media accounts may never replicate the experience of walking through a gallery, but they will be able to keep us in touch, for a time, with the collections we most prize.
The current restrictions will no doubt have severe financial consequences for public institutions and their contractors and for art businesses – as well as for artists, many of whom may usually thrive on solitude but will be only too conscious that it doesn’t pay the bills. To give just one example, writing on the Apollo website Chloë Ashby has described how the delayed opening of Albertina Modern in Vienna is costing the museum some €60,000 a day. When it comes to the art market, auction houses may be able to stumble on with some online sales and, in the midst of gallery closures and art fair cancellations,