Sometimes they have open hours, other times it’s by appointment only. Opening-night parties with wine and finger food are a thing of the past. Exhibitions have projected end dates, but could be extended. Gallons of hand sanitizer abound. If someone tests positive for coronavirus, the show is totally over.
In these strange and uncertain times, Twin Cities galleries are once again opening their doors to the public amid precarious circumstances. While the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Walker Art Center now require reservations for timed, ticketed visits since reopening July 16, galleries can make their own rules.
At Hair & Nails Gallery in south Minneapolis, that means only 10 visitors at any given time. All must wear masks. The gallery used to be open four days a week; now it’s Saturdays and Sundays, or by appointment.
“Our general gut feeling was: Just wait — it’s gonna be a long time before things are normal,” said Hair & Nails co-owner Kristin Van Loon, who lives next door to the gallery. “At the same time, more of the research was shifting toward awareness of the virus’ airborne nature and away from surfaces. It became clear that warm weather was key, so it felt safest to get a couple shows in before it gets cold out.”
On June 11, Hair & Nails opened “Holding Space,” an installation of video and images by young, Black, queer artists that utilized the gallery’s street-facing front windows and outdoor walls.
Its first indoor shows came six weeks later, shortly after Gov. Tim Walz’s statewide mask mandate. Minneapolis-based Joe Sinness, known for his collaged works about queer male sexuality, debuted in the main-floor gallery, while another solo show — a series of sculptures by Daniel Luedtke about how science quantifies health — opened in the basement space.
“All along, we are ready to shut down the plan whenever we need to,” said Van Loon. “We have four shows planned on into December. But we have to be ready for anything. Everyone has been game so far.”
At Weinstein Hammons Gallery, co-owner Leslie Hammons and gallery assistant Bade Turgut alternate coming in every other week. To be safe, founder Martin Weinstein isn’t visiting the gallery nowadays.
The gallery reopened June 11 by appointment only. In the old days, it was open on afternoons Tuesday through Saturday. It’s keeping the same hours now — but with a limit of four visitors at a time.
“We wanted to make everybody feel safe — us and visitors,” said Hammons. “It is a way for us to control that, and we disinfect between each person.”
Just as the gallery’s social rules changed, so did its exhibition lineup. In the months leading up to lockdown, Hammons was working on a big exhibition about the historical relationship between music and photography. But suddenly it seemed irrelevant with what was going on in Minneapolis and the world.
Instead, the gallery brought in a series of 17 paintings-on-paper of life in quarantine by Italian artist Paolo Ventura. Normally a photographer residing in Milan, Ventura ended up stuck in the Italian countryside without his equipment, so he turned to painting.
In the adjacent room, a Gordon Parks exhibition called “I Am You” included photos of protests that could’ve been shot just the other month in Minneapolis, but are actually from the 1960s.
Not every gallery had to create entirely new plans.
The Mobile Art Gallery, an annual summer pop-up project created by ArtReach St. Croix, rolled in at just the right time. This year’s show, “Mending,” takes broken objects submitted by 25 Minnesota artists, and resituates them as art, offering viewers a way to discuss this world in the middle of a pandemic crisis.
The show began July 31-Aug. 2 in Stillwater, and will travel to Afton State Park on Aug. 21-23 and Lake Elmo Regional Park Preserve on Sept. 5-7.
“Aesthetically I was asking for damaged objects because I wrote my thesis on Surrealism and I was thinking of that show they did in the 1930s, about the Surrealist object,” said the show’s curator William Franklin. “One of the categories was the performative object — everything from war, broken, destroyed furniture, a part from a car that exploded. That was another time, another intensity, but I said, OK let’s do something in Minnesota.”
At the opening party July 31 in ArtReach St. Croix’s adjacent yard, guests wore masks, social-distanced, and stepped into the Mobile Art Gallery, which is just 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. No more than two people can go in at a time.
To ensure that not too many people attended, the arts organization created an RSVP system so that people would space their visits.
“The size of this gallery is the brain,” said Franklin. “It’s like a Dali. You know what Dali said about subway entrances in Paris? They’re the gates to the subconscious.”
Much like individual reactions to the pandemic, each gallery has handled it in its own way. And it wasn’t always so experimental and playful as the Mobile Art Gallery.
Highpoint Center for Printmaking reopened July 6 — but only to artist co-op members who use its printmaking facilities. There’s nothing up in its physical galleries, but its annual “Hot Off the Press” exhibition of works by co-op members is available virtually.
Highpoint plans to reopen its gallery space on Sept. 12, with its annual show of Jerome Foundation Emerging Printmakers.
Flexibility is key, said Jennifer Phelps, director of Burnet Fine Art in Wayzata. Burnet reopened with regular hours and by appointment on June 1.
“The first people that came in — some people I’d never seen before — almost all of them said, ‘We are so excited to see art in person. Viewing it online is great but we are really excited to see artwork,’ ” said Phelps.
Burnet is planning to open some shows, but no opening parties. Phelps is completing a training course in contact tracing, as part of the gallery’s COVID-19 preparedness plan.
Artistry in Bloomington reopened its doors in mid-May, primarily because it shares a building with the city’s offices. It was able to install both of the shows it had scheduled before the pandemic, and it opened a new exhibit this weekend, “Visual Translations,” by Minneapolis artists Anna Carlson and Nghia Quach.
It hasn’t been easy. “Even now, many would-be visitors are hesitant to attend indoor activities where people might congregate,” said Rachel Daly, director of visual arts for Artistry, which is currently open Mondays through Saturdays.
Groveland Gallery in Minneapolis hosted six virtual-only exhibitions between mid-March and mid-June, then started letting people in the door.
Like other spaces, the gallery requires masks and appointments in advance. On July 25, it opened its annual summer group invitational, which includes 60 pieces and 38 artists and will run through Sept. 5.
“The biggest disappointment has been for the artists,” said Groveland director Sally Johnson. She noted that because shows are usually planned a year or two in advance, it’s hard for the artists not to be able to meet with friends and supporters.
But in true pandemic mode, galleries have to be ready for anything and plan extra time for the most boring of chores.
“Cleaning, bleach mopping, alcohol wipes, doorknob, the whole bathroom — anything anyone would touch,” said Van Loon. “It’s very janitorial.”