Re-opening of the National Gallery of Ireland

The re-opening of The National Gallery of Ireland

The much awaited phased re-opening of The National Gallery of Ireland is on track for May 2021. What changes can the public expect? And what’s on display? 

Re-opening of the gallery 2021  

As with most of the Mondrians, Jack B. Yeats hangs in the empty halls of the National Gallery of Ireland, but news of the government’s re-opening plan provides some relief to culture and art enthusiasts in and around Dublin. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has kept all of the Irish galleries, museums, and heritage sites closed since last December; and has caused severe social and economic disruption for the cultural institutions within Ireland and most of Europe. However, it seems like the country is on track to re-open the cultural, commercial, and hospitality sectors. Finally, one of the most visited places in Dublin, the National Gallery, will be opening its doors to the public once again. 

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The prolonged shutdown has had art institutions facing major issues like slashed budgets, reduced staffing, and limited capacity that have left many independent galleries teetering on the brink of insolvency. This has further led to the loss of months of revenue, compounding the problem of shortfalls in grants and donations. Moreover, smaller cultural institutions who do not have the privilege of endowments or large donor bases to sustain themselves through the pandemic have been forced to cancel performances, call off tours, and shut down art classes. 

Presently, organisations and working artists still deal with the looming existential threat facing them. While some artists have continued their work on virtual platforms, many others (particularly performing, visual, and ensemble artists who make their income from shows, exhibits, and tours) expect to have their employment impacted by the pandemic for the foreseeable future.

Last year, when the National Gallery of Ireland was allowed to reopen, new bold instructions and bright yellow arrows directed the visitors through a safe one-way system that ensured social distancing. Furthermore, multiple hand sanitising stations were also installed throughout the building and elevator usage was restricted to only one person at a time. The gallery also encouraged visitors to use their personal smartphones as a replacement for audio guides in order to keep up with the government mandated protocols.

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Art under lockdown: Virtual Reality 

The government mandated lockdown resulted in a surge of online content by the National Gallery, which facilitated public engagement through a virtual simulation of all its exhibits. The Annenberg Foundation financially supported this project and provided the public with vast collections of artworks which enabled access to culture and art, in these dire times. This online tour has enabled works to become available to a much wider audience and overcome geographical barriers. Moreover, this alternative has promoted inclusivity for non-traditional audiences and advanced art engagement for a variety of demographics. This new pathway has encouraged people to explore art and culture, who may have previously felt excluded by these realms.

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Prevalent issues for the galleries 

The daunting task of remaining open under the current circumstances has exposed fundamental problems. The pandemic has prompted a renewed focus on accessibility, inclusion, equality, and diversity; along with a need to create engaging virtual content. With the absence of international tourists, it will be up to the galleries to appeal to the locals through various creative initiatives. 

With the closure of many other social establishments, such as pubs and nightclubs, art institutions can serve as an ideal, beneficial alternative. This could be achieved through the extension of opening hours until later in the evening, along with organising socially distanced events, which might prompt an influx of traffic. 

Last year, when the National Gallery of Ireland was allowed to reopen, new bold instructions and bright yellow arrows directed the visitors through a safe one-way system that ensured social distancing. Furthermore, multiple hand sanitising stations were also installed throughout the building and elevator usage was restricted to only one person at a time. The gallery also encouraged visitors to use their personal smartphones as a replacement for audio guides in order to keep up with the government mandated protocols.

Re-opening of the National Gallery 2021 

The Press Office of the gallery provided us with valuable information for the upcoming re-opening strategy being utilised: 

Phase 1 

Keeping up with the latest government guidelines, the gallery is set to re-open on 4 May 2021. According to Emma Pearson, “The safety of staff and visitors is paramount in the reopening of the Gallery, and all required health and safety measures will be in place. The Gallery will be operating a one-way system and operating at a reduced capacity, with limited numbers permitted in each area.” The visitors are expected to adhere to the social distancing guidelines and wear face coverings. The gallery has also installed numerous sanitising stations throughout the building to ensure safety and hygiene protocols are followed. 

Upon reopening, an exciting exhibition programme will be in place, including the opening of New Perspectives: Acquisitions 2011-2020, a decade of new acquisitions – many on display for the first time – in the Beit Wing.

Appealing to the locals

The National Gallery has been able to connect with the Irish public online and through its “Friends and Volunteers” programme. The gallery further states that as it “holds Ireland’s national collection of art, countless members of the public have expressed their desire to return to visit a favourite artwork once the Gallery reopens. We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back to visit old friends – from Picasso to Jellet, Yeats to Vermeer, and Caravaggio to Leech.” 

Moreover, on 15 May 2021 – together with many museums, galleries, libraries, and cultural organisations all around Ireland – the Gallery will host “National Drawing Day” to encourage people to get drawing with “a jam-packed day of free events for people of all ages.”

Currently, “National Gallery at Home” continues to connect the Irish public with their admired national collection. From hosting live talks and creative workshops to family activities and virtual tours, the Gallery continues to connect with the Irish public.

Open calls

The gallery is on track to host numerous open calls and the Press Office lists the following upcoming events that are open to all public: 

National Drawing Day 2021

The Gallery has announced that National Drawing Day 2021 will take place online on Saturday, 15 May 2021. National Drawing Day is for everyone, and is an annual celebration of drawing and creativity. This event is an initiative supported by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport, and Media and is co-hosted by dozens of partner venues around the island of Ireland. This is the seventeenth annual National Drawing Day. People of all ages and all abilities are encouraged to pick up their pencils and get creative! 

 Zurich Portrait Prize 2021

Deadline: 23 June 2021, 10pm (IST)

The famed Zurich Portrait Prize 2021 is open for entries. This annual competition showcasing contemporary portraiture is open to artists from across the island of Ireland, and Irish artists living abroad. The winner of the competition will receive a cash prize of €15,000 and will be commissioned to create a work for the national portrait collection, for which they will be awarded a further €5,000. Two additional awards of €1,500 will be given to highly commended works. 

The judges for the Zurich Portrait Prize are artist Eamonn Doyle; art critic and Professor in the School of Art History & Cultural Policy (UCD) Róisín Kennedy; and Curator at IMMA Seán Kissane. An exhibition featuring a shortlist of portraits chosen by the 2021 judging panel will go on display in the Gallery from 13 November 2021 to 3 April 2022, before travelling to Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. 

Zurich Young Portrait Prize 2021

Deadline: 23 June 2021, 10pm (IST)

The Zurich Young Portrait Prize returns for its third year in 2021. The inclusive art competition is open to children and young people of all abilities aged up to 18 from across Ireland, and aims to foster and support creativity, originality, and self-expression in children and young people. Twenty finalists in four categories (ages 6 and under, ages 7–11, ages 12–15 and ages 16–18), chosen by a panel of judges, will be displayed in an exhibition in the Gallery from 13 November 2021 to 3 April 2022, before travelling to Crawford Art Gallery, Cork. 

Winners in the four age categories and an overall winner will be chosen from the shortlisted works. The overall winner will be awarded a personalised wooden box of high-quality art materials, specific to their choice of material in their portrait, and a cash prize of €500. This year’s Zurich Young Portrait Prize judges are: visual artist Aideen Barry; artist, art teacher and activist Joe Caslin; and Tadhg Crowley, Senior Curator: Education + Community at the Glucksman. 

 Updated Covid-19 protocols  

The Gallery has implemented several new measures so that they can provide a safe and enjoyable visit for everyone. 

  • Hand sanitiser is now available throughout the building 
  • The gallery has introduced a distinctive one-way system. Entrance of the Gallery is via the Merrion Square and exit via Clare Street
  • Protective screens have been installed at contact points
  • The gallery will be monitoring the number of visitors in Gallery spaces, and the public may be asked to wait for a few minutes if rooms are at maximum capacity 
  • The gallery has further enhanced the cleaning and sanitation procedures, paying particular attention to high touch areas
  • There are clear floor markings and signage throughout the Gallery to ensure social distancing adherence

The National Gallery of Ireland is open seven days a week and entry to their permanent collection remains free. Like last year, visitors can use their smartphones and headphones to listen to audio descriptions and can follow one of the suggested trails taking in a selection of artworks: a Highlights trail (green route), or a Family Favourites trail (pink route). They can even follow one of the online self-guided tours to learn more about some highlights of the collection. The famous gallery shop and Café will also reopen for visitors who wish to shop and end their visit with a coffee.

Visit https://www.nationalgallery.ie/ for more information and updates. 

 

(banner image, “Jason Mitchell in Panama City”) 

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About the author

Gandharva Joshi

Recent 23 year old MPhil in Art History and Architecture graduate from Trinity College who holds great passion for the arts, culture and heritage industries. You can usually find me painting, reading or watching World War 2 documentaries on Netflix. Contact me for any info or collaboration ideas on my Instagram- @notjoshie

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