With more than 8,000 cases of the coronavirus documented within its borders, Italy went on lockdown on Monday while officials work to contain the virus’s spread. As Italy’s 60 million citizens continue adjusting to life under quarantine, galleries throughout the country have begun closing to the public temporarily. In statements sent to ARTnews, these galleries said their business could soon be impacted. Some dealers have plans to appear in art fairs in Europe and the Americas next month, and are currently pondering discuss their next steps. Others are continuing with business as usual in spite of all the confusion and hysteria.
Italy’s Lombardy region, which includes Milan, was hit hardest by the outbreak, and many in that city—including Dep Art Gallery, Monica de Cardenas, Cassina Projects, Mimmo Scognamiglio ArteContemporanea, and Massimo De Carlo (which also has spaces outside of Italy)—said that they had no choice but to close. Meanwhile, dealer Thomas Brambilla shuttered his gallery in Bergamo, about an hour northeast in Milan.
“This is the worst thing that happened to us up to now,” Brambilla said. But business hasn’t completely ground to a halt, he said. “People probably have realized that art is a safe investment. And therefore we are selling as much as before.”
Dealer Marco Cassina, of Cassina Projects, said that the regulations don’t require art galleries to close, but that he had done so “for the safety of our staff and to help minimize the spread of the virus.” The gallery will remain open by appointment for clients.
Whether Italian dealers would even be able to attend art fairs out country was a question on the mind of many. Massimo De Carlo, whose gallery has spaces in Milan, London, and Hong Kong, is one of several Italian dealers with plans to participate in the Dallas Art Fair in Texas next month. De Carlo said he remained optimistic about getting to the fair, though the lockdown could prevent his colleagues from joining him. “Of course, we wish for a better possible scenario,” he said. “Traveling is a difficult subject at the moment.” Massimo Scognamiglio expressed doubt about whether he would make it to the Dallas Art Fair as well, adding he would have to decide within 10 days, and Cassina said, “Travel restrictions seem to change week by week, so it’s hard to predict the future.”
Antonio Addamiano, Dep Art Gallery’s director, said that, over the past three weeks, “we have put all efforts in [keeping] the gallery open in order to serve the art community of Milan and keep the cultural life of the city alive,” and had even opened a group exhibition on the Korean avant-garde last week. With the new restrictions in place, the gallery is closed until further updates from the government could allow it to reopen, but he still plans to do Art Brussels and Art Cologne fairs, both during the same weekend next month. Brambilla also won’t pull out of Art Brussels, either: “If they want me there, I go. Why not?”
Farther south, Monitor, which has spaces in Rome and Pereto, about an hour outside the capital city, said it would close both locations, and that it would delay the opening of an Ian Tweedy exhibition at its Lisbon space. The Vienna-based Galerie Emanuel Layr said that its Italian location had been closed since late January; a planned Matthias Noggler show was supposed to open on April 23, but it has been indefinitely delayed.
Paola Capata, the owner of Monitor, said that staff at the gallery is now working remotely, adding, “Of course we will all be effected by the coronavirus in our business. We need to be realistic.”
Emanuel Layr, the founder of his gallery, said that, with shows still taking place in Vienna, his Rome space was a “special situation,” adding, “I feel strongly [for] all colleagues in Italy, and I feel very sorry to not be able to open an exhibition right now or in the near future. Rome has been an important for us to meet international collectors and people from all over Italy, so the situation is not in favor for our specific endeavor.”
Layr is among those who had been set to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong, which was canceled amid coronavirus concerns and replaced with online viewing rooms. The dealer, who is among those set to sell art via the viewing rooms, is “optimistic” that Art Basel’s Swiss fair in June will still happen, but he acknowledges that his gallery, with its relatively small size, is more nimble than the enterprises of some of his colleagues. “Our business model is not entirely based on art fairs,” he said. “Our small/medium size allows us to stay flexible and react fast on current developments. I think late March, beginning April will show us how to continue for the rest of the year.”
In an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus, museums across the country have also closed, including Rome’s Galleria Borghese, the Capitoline Museums, the Vatican Museums, and the MAXXI museum of contemporary art, as well as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Fondazione Prada, and Palazzo Grassi in Venice. On Monday, the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome said its blockbuster exhibition of Raphael, which had opened only days earlier, would be closed until further notice. And the Venice Architecture Biennale said last week that it would delay its opening until the end of summer.
Gallerists in other major art capitals outside the Lombardy region were also acting fast to make their next steps. Even though no coronavirus cases have been reported in Naples, at least two galleries in the city—Gallerie Umberto Di Marino and Galleria Fonti—have announced closures. Di Marino said that though its next exhibition has been delayed, the gallery still plans to participate in arteBA in Buenos Aires next month.
Meanwhile, Bologna’s P420 will stay open, though its cofounder, Fabrizio Padovani, said its next show, set to open on April 4, may be delayed “for people who have much more to think about than art.” (P420 is also set to participate in Art Brussels and Frieze New York, and Padovani expressed uncertainty over whether either fair would happen. The organizers of Art Brussels have said the fair is still a-go.)
In the northwestern city of Turin, Luce Gallery will stay open to the public, though only a limited amount of people will be allowed in at a time. Nikola Cernetic, the gallery’s founder, said, “It’s now day by day, looking what is happening around the world and of course in our country. We are trying to stay very positive and hope that this moment will pass soon over returning at the normality of our life.”