February 1, 2023

The tide turned back in 2019 when New York’s Museum of Modern Art inaugurated its new building, housing 100 percent of its own art galleries, and announced a new approach to programming (and member selling) that put collection exhibitions first stood. These should be golden years for collection presentations, and young curators in particular should take this opportunity to repurpose collections for new purposes. Check out the Cleveland Museum of Art, whose recently acclaimed Stories From Storage exhibition has added hundreds of seldom-displayed items – medieval illustrations of plague saints, Tibetan thangka paintings, animal figures from the Vienna interwar period – to a chorus of new meanings.

But going on a show may not always be the smartest way to go. In the Serpentine Galleries in London, the “General Ecology” program of curator Lucia Pietroiusti has dealt with climate and culture through conferences, publications, podcasts, reading groups, residencies, film screenings – and almost no exhibitions. If the Post-Covid-Museum first has to rediscover its own collection, it could also envision new and interlocking program forms that extend far beyond the walls of the gallery. An added bonus: such programming is usually cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Opera and dance companies have been doing this for years: when a production gets expensive, they share the cost and then the fame. A post-Covid museum could share the burden of its largest businesses – as will be the case with the Jasper Johns retrospective this fall, co-organized by Whitney and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The institutions seem rightly more comfortable with the acquisition of joint collections than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum jointly acquired the Robert Mapplethorpe Archives, or the Philadelphia Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts jointly bought Thomas Eakins’ “Gross Clinic”.

Museums could also help themselves by entering into more ongoing partnerships: consider L’Internationale, a consortium of seven European modern art museums (from Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid to SALT in Turkey) with a joint program of exhibitions, debates and Online projects. Why shouldn’t a year-long research initiative encompass two or three university museums? Could a museum in Minneapolis, with its sizeable Somali population, have a permanent partnership with one in Mogadishu?

From the American Museum of Natural History in New York to the Castello di Rivoli outside Turin (Italy), museums have turned their galleries into vaccination centers this spring. Why not let the doctors and nurses stay for a while? Working with local hospitals, universities, laboratories and other (well-funded) research institutions seems like a natural step for the Post-Covid Museum: imagine a psychiatrist working on portrait exhibitions or a legal scholar working on the Challenges of Conceptual Art.