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  • Mar 23, 2020

Covid-19 Causes More Closures, and Re-Closures

A second wave of Covid-19 outbreaks is sweeping across Asia, affecting countries and major metropolises, like Hong Kong and Singapore, that escaped the initial spikes since late January. As a result, new closures, postponements, and cancellations have been announced at major museums, commercial institutions, and galleries from Sydney to Hong Kong, and from Manila to Auckland. 

Following the latest governmental advice, the Biennale of Sydney released a statement on March 23 stating that beginning from Tuesday March 24, its public exhibitions will be suspended until further notice. Australia was able to limit its number of confirmed cases to just 25 through the end of February, but the state and federal governments have been compelled to implement new restrictions as infected cases soared to 1,352 on March 22. The Biennale said it will be moving to “a digital experience” on the Google Arts & Culture platform in addition to its own social media channels with “live content, virtual walk-throughs, podcasts, interactive Q&As, curated tours and artist takeovers.” 

One of the Biennale’s main venues, the Art Gallery of New South Wales, also announced its temporary closure on March 23 and has postponed the submission dates for the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes 2020. The Biennale’s other primary venues—the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, and Artspace Sydney have also shut their doors on the same day. In Brisbane, the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art released news of its closure effective March 23 at noon. Meanwhile, the Institute of Modern Art in Brisbane, and the National Gallery of Victoria, in Melbourne, have already shuttered their respective galleries last week. 

Many museums in Hong Kong had been gradually reopening since mid-March due to the city’s relatively stable condition, but Hong Kong’s brief attempt to resume normal activities has been stymied by a second wave of the pandemic—with the number of Covid-19 cases doubling in a week from 157 on March 16 to 317 on March 23—primarily as a result of residents returning from Europe and North America. As the government tries to re-introduce social distancing measures, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced on March 21 that its previously reopened facilities will be closed again. The largest of these institutions is the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which, after a short reopening period since March 11, is closed again indefinitely and has cancelled all of its programs and events from March 23 onwards. Following suit, the West Kowloon Cultural District has announced the temporary closure of the M+ Pavilion as well as the rescheduling and cancellation of other ticketed events at the Xiqu Centre and Freespace through March 31.

Singapore, like Hong Kong, was hit by the second wave of Covid-19 cases, 80 percent of which came from returning travellers, bringing the city-state’s number of cases to 455 at the time of writing. Two museums have temporarily shut down after employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus. On March 19 and 20, the Asian Civilisation Museum was closed after an employee who had recently travelled to the United States reported their illness to the National Heritage Board, although said employee did not return to the museum nor was in contact with colleagues since returning to the city on March 14. Similarly, the ArtScience Museum underwent several days of cleaning from March 19–22 due to an employee who had tested positive, after being on sick leave since March 10. The National Arts Council also stated on March 23 that the Singapore International Arts Festival, originally slated for May 15–31, will not take place as planned. 

Elsewhere in the region, the novel coronavirus prompted all of Manila’s museums to shutter last week, including the Vargas Museum, Ateneo Art Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, as well as Manila’s commercial art galleries such as Silverlens, Finale Art File, The Drawing Room, and 1335 Mabini. The Indian government closed all three branches of the National Gallery of Modern Art, in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru through March 31. In Taiwan, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum (TFAM) remains open but galleries Tina Keng and TKG+ are closed to the public. In New Zealand, public institutions including the Auckland Art Gallery Toi O Tamaki are taking precautions by closing for several weeks, as New Zealand tries to stay ahead of the latest surge in Covid-19 cases. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific; Kylie Yeung is editorial intern.

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