Visitors enjoy partially reopened Museum of Art
After getting postponed a few times due to changing COVID-19 conditions, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art finally reopened at the beginning of this month, much to the delight of the director Larry Feinberg.
“It just feels great,” he told the News-Press.
Museum deputy director and chief curator Eik Kahng concurred, since showing people works of art online isn’t quite the same as showing them in person.
“The one thing you begin to realize when you’ve been quarantined as long as we have and you work for a fine art museum, is that it’s hard when you don’t have an audience,” she said.
She added, “You don’t have a purpose in life if you don’t have the opportunity to share art with real people in real time.”
The reopening is a limited one, as many of the museum’s galleries are in the midst of being renovated. Mr. Feinberg said much of the renovation was completed throughout the COVID-19 shutdown, with construction crews expected to clear out of the museum in the next month or so.
According to Ms. Kahng, the renovation has largely kept to schedule despite the pandemic.
However, the museum’s galleries won’t immediately reopen once the renovation is completed since the galleries need to be reinstalled, a process that will take several months.
“We won’t be able to reopen the entire museum until April, because there’s I think 16, 17 galleries that have to be reinstalled. It’s going to take us quite a while,” Mr. Feinberg said.
Those galleries that are open have undergone some changes while closed. The museum’s Davidson Gallery has been turned into the “Important Works on Paper” collection — a showcase of drawings, photographs and prints from all four departments of the museum’s permanent collection.
In addition to the selected works hanging on the wall, the redone exhibit features an installed office where photographers will take pictures of all the collection’s paper works to go on the museum’s website and curators will examine pieces to check their condition. Also, the office has windows through which guests can watch the museum staff work and ask them questions about what they’re doing.
“It’s just another little interactive possibility for the community,” Mr. Feinberg said.
He added, “People like to see the behind the scenes operations in a museum sometimes.”
Other exhibits on display in the currently open galleries include “Small-Format American Paintings from the Permanent Collection,” “Highlights of the Permanent Collection” and “In the Meanwhile…Recent Acquisitions of Contemporary Art.”
The latter arrived at the museum just before the onset of COVID-19, so relatively few people were able to view it before the museum closed.
Though the “Small-Format American Paintings” featuring the museum’s highlights of 19th and early 20th century American pictures only takes up a small nook of the Ridley-Tree Gallery, Mr. Feinberg remarked that the museum has “an extremely strong” and “deep” collection of this kind of art.
“When we do reopen in April, one whole gallery, the Preston Morton Gallery, will be filled with this area of the collection,” the director said.
While the museum was closed, its curators assembled some of its most important pieces including art from Japan, China, India, Java, and 19th century Europe, as well as contemporary art. These pieces can currently be found in the museum’s “Highlights of the Permanent Collection” section.
When the rest of the museum’s galleries reopen in April, the contemporary art will be given its own exhibit and the gallery currently housing the “Highlights” collection will be singularly dedicated to 19th century European paintings.
Had it not been for the pandemic, the museum would have unveiled a long-awaited Vincent van Gogh exhibit this month. Instead, the three-month van Gogh show has been delayed all the way to February 2022, by which time the museum staff hopes a COVID-19 vaccine will be found.
“If you’re going to do such a really important show, you want people to be able to come and not only have two or three people in a gallery at a time,” Mr. Feinberg stated.
The museum director added that the delay has actually worked to the museum’s advantage.
“It turns out that some pictures by van Gogh that hadn’t been available for the originally scheduled time, are going to be available for the new dates, and so there will actually be a few more pictures in it than we were counting on,” he said.
Though for now, guests can only see a fraction of the museum. Ms. Kahng told the News-Press that they are in for a treat when they come to the renovated museum in April.
“I’m flabbergasted every time I go to the office and I walk through the renovation. … I can’t wait for people to see it,” she said.
The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is open from Wednesday through Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors must make reservations online at tickets.sbma.net and admission will be free until Nov. 1.