After months on screens, being able to stand in front of a painting has never felt so vital

·3-min read
 (Handout)
(Handout)

I’ve been counting the days to Camden Art Centre re-opening on 21 May for weeks now! When we went into lockdown before Christmas, none of us in the museums and galleries sector thought it would be another five months before we could welcome audiences back. The energy around those first exhibition openings back in September was so positive that it felt doubly hard the second time. After months of doing everything on a screen, the chance to just stand in front of a painting or a sculpture had never felt so vital. So, here we are again, gearing up for another incredible season of openings in London. With almost every major museum and gallery opening next week, it’s going to be a feast of art and culture.

It starts with a meeting of our Covid Taskforce, to plan and implement the changes we need to put in place to keep all our staff and visitors safe. At Camden Art Centre we have wonderful, open exhibition spaces, and a lovely café and garden, so in some senses the restrictions actually improve the experience. Entrance is free but on a timed ticket, meaning the spaces are always calm, quiet and spacious. It’s the ideal way to see the exhibitions and the perfect antidote to all those weeks cooped up at home.

Next, it’s a check-in with our café partners, Cantine, who have been ordering new furniture and building a bespoke outdoor bar in the garden. I get to sign off the colours for the umbrellas! Then it’s onto the serious and the fun bit — installing the new exhibitions in the galleries. After months of uncertainty and constantly shifting schedules we feel so lucky to be opening two amazing shows by two young international artists, Walter Price (born in Georgia, USA) and Olga Balema (born in Ukraine and living and working in New York). Olga’s installation is a new site-specific sculpture made especially for our galleries, so she had to be here in person. It meant arriving a full two weeks early to quarantine, but it’s fantastic to have an artist working in the building with us again and, after checking in and talking about the changes she made yesterday, I leave her quietly to continue her work.

Walter wasn’t able to travel, so his works arrived from New York a few days ago and we’ve just finished unpacking and condition checking them. He’s an extraordinary painter who did a residency with us in January last year. Some of the drawings he made during that time are included, but they’re joined by paintings he made through the first lockdown in New York when, instead of buying new paints and materials, he decided to use up what he had in the studio. The result is a series of incredible new paintings.

It’s the first time I’ve installed an exhibition by a living artist without them here, but nowadays there’s Zoom of course and after a morning of moving works around the spaces, Walter joins us via an iPad to check in and view the installation. All good so far. After months of stasis it feels like everything is suddenly happening all at once, but it’s such a joy to be back in the building working with our brilliant team, and most of all to be back with real life art and real life artists.

Martin Clark is director of Camden Art Centre

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