London's National Gallery is charging a fee for a virtual tour of its 'Artemisia' exhibition

  • Arts
  • Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

London's National Gallery is now offering a half-hour-long curator-led digital tour of its retrospective of the Italian Renaissance painter, Artemisia Gentileschi - at a cost. Photo: AFP

If one thing's for sure, it's that the pandemic is forcing professionals in the art world to rethink their economic models. Many are now questioning the future of virtual exhibitions, often launched during spring's initial Covid-19 lockdowns to keep art fans entertained.

Until now, most such initiatives have been free, but these online exhibitions could soon be paywalled as cash-strapped museums look for new revenue streams.

One of the first major cultural institutions to take the leap is London's National Gallery, which is currently closed to the public as part of national lockdown measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

The British museum is now offering a half-hour-long curator-led digital tour of its retrospective of the Italian Renaissance painter, Artemisia Gentileschi - at a cost.

Exhibition curator Letizia Treves guides grounded art fans through the show's 30 or so works by the Italian artist, such as Susanna And The Elders, Self-Portrait As The Allegory Of Painting and Mary Magdalene In Ecstasy.

The tour is available until Dec 3, priced £8 (RM44).

"Although this film cannot replace the experience of seeing the exhibition in person at the National Gallery, it will allow us to share Artemisia's story and paintings with as many people as possible, in particular those who cannot make it to Trafalgar Square right now," Letizia Treves said in a statement quoted in The Art Newspaper.

Although the exhibition runs until Jan 24,2021, this new digital offer could help the museum reach new audiences during its second Covid-related closure. The Artemisia Gentileschi retrospective has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, which already forced National Gallery curators to postpone its opening until October - a delay that had to be negotiated with loaning institutions such as the National Gallery in Oslo, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Prado Museum in Madrid.

"It's been a long time coming, but Artemisia will finally get her moment in the spotlight and I can't wait to share her story and paintings with visitors," Letizia Treves said at the time.

Rethinking museum revenue

While the National Gallery is Britain's first major museum to make one of its digital initiatives paid for, professionals in the sector are increasingly considering following suit.

This could involve a rethinking of the economic model of museums, making them less reliant on visitor numbers. That was a subject of discussion at a recent virtual symposium on the future of museums, organised by the Louvre Abu Dhabi and New York University Abu Dhabi.

"The three pillars - events, sponsorship and ticketing - are not enough," explained the entrepreneur and patron, Frédéric Jousset, during a conference at the event. For him, the challenge is now to create new sources of revenue, and this may rely on a paradigm shift: moving from an approach centred around artworks to an approach centred around users.

Indeed, the French entrepreneur points out that digital art centres like the Atelier des Lumières in Paris have successfully integrated this new way of approaching the artistic experience. Ultimately, the pandemic may have the merit of speeding up the transformation of museums, getting visitors and new audiences more involved. - AFP

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