Museums Under Quarantine. From Moscow to Kyoto
The world is changing drastically before our eyes. This affects our museums, exhibitions, our visitors and us personally. Museum employees are people who are in love with what they do. They go to the “temples of culture” in order to worship art, people, sensibility, kindness and everlasting virtues, and not simply to earn money. Museum people even share the same language, it is a universal language of art, images and stories. With this project, we want to reflect on how the area will evolve, how we shall build our work, how we can help our visitors and how not to lose our connection with them at this challenging time.
The Museum of Russian Impressionism has interviewed people from different museums across the world and learned how their life is organized now.
Interview of Conversation between the exibition department specialist, Olga Yurkina, with the curator of foreign painting collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art, Ksenia Rudzite.
Unfortunately, I have never met Ksenia Rudzite, Curator of Foreign Painting Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art in person. We keep in touch via emails and phone calls. Ksenia and her colleagues greatly assist us in preparing our future exhibition “Sergey Vinogradov. Painted Life” as the painter spent his last fourteen years in Riga. One of my New Year resolutions was to visit Riga, where I have never been before. I hope that this dream will come true this year and I will see this wonderful city, visit the Latvian National Museum of Art, and finally meet Ksenia.
1) First let's remember our normal life. Normally I am the first person to come to the office, so I have some time for a cup of black tea which is essential for a good start of my day. I use this quiet time to think over my current projects and their development. Then I check my emails, do necessary phone calls, discuss any pressing issues with my colleagues, search for information about artists and art works, work on articles together with the editor and contact other museums with regard to future projects. I also give guided tours of the temporary exhibition a few times a week and sometimes spend a whole day in the archive or library.
What did your working day use to look like before quarantine?
My working day is usually carefully planned – emails, work with the museum collection, digitalization of the exhibits, visits to libraries and archives, meetings, tours, lectures given by my colleagues. And then in the evenings I try to see my family and friends, go to the theatre or cinema.
2) And what does it look like now?
I start my morning with checking emails and messengers. For the most part this defines my plans for the day. In case my boss or any of the colleagues has questions, I try to respond or provide necessary information. Moreover, one exhibition project that was originally planned for later was eventually moved to next year, so I had to speed up, consolidate all information I had and assess whether it’s feasible to prepare it in the given timeframe. What I lack the most during this quarantine time is access to information which is not digitalized yet (not all archives and libraries have their materials available online). And of course, I miss my tight contact with the colleagues who were always there to help with practical advice or new insights.
What about you?
I am currently working from home, which means that I reply my emails, work on the catalogue or future projects, and select materials for our social media whenever I can. Once or twice a week my husband brings me to the new museum storage center where we, both following social distancing recommendations and wearing face masks, hang paintings that were delivered earlier. We also have regular video calls with my department. Many employees, including myself, take a vacation.
3) How is your museum working now? Are you developing your online programs or preparing new offline projects?
For example, our museum is closed for visitors and employees. However, we are very active online and in the media. We have also produced a few videos on our current exhibition and permanent collection and are working hard on our future projects.
All museums are closed for visitors in Latvia. But we didn’t stop our work, of course – we launch theme projects in our social media, promote future exhibitions, make video tours of our current displays.
4) And what about the city? Can you move around freely?
Moscow is under lockdown, so it’s only essential services and grocery stores that stay open. The city itself looks very empty, and this brings me an awkward feeling since I am used to a crowded and noisy city. My trips now are limited too, as I only go to the nearest supermarket. And I should admit it’s hard for me, because I normally walk a lot. Though I managed to get to the museum once using a day pass – I met my boss to discuss our future project and also worked in the library a bit. What about Riga?
The center of Riga is empty, all public places, children and sports facilities are closed. You may only move in a group of two, public transport vehicles have some seats taped off so that passengers stay two meters apart. Many private companies continue their work. Shops are equipped with sanitizers and they have introduced special hours for customers in high-risk groups.
5) Yeah, I understand. My parents are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in July and my sister was supposed to come from Europe together with her family. We thought of organizing a trip for our parents, we wanted to spend this special day together. And now we don’t even know when we will be able to meet, to hug each other.
Has this COVID-19 crisis affected you personally or your family?
I don’t really see my children or my grandchildren. The exhibition of my husband that was supposed to open in June is now postponed. All planned and prepaid trips are also cancelled for the foreseeable future.
6) I hope that all this is over soon. I hope that new audience will learn about our museum. People who didn’t know about us before, but during this quarantine period got very interested in what we do. I dream that I stop worrying about my family and their life. I just want to walk along the streets of my home city, see some familiar faces and meet my friends. And what’s your dream?
That this virus stops killing people and that everything goes back to normal. I wish I could meet my grandchildren and travel around the world.