Gallery operators cry foul as some exemptions made

Foto: Tasos_Lekkas / Pixabay CC0

Museums and galleries in the Czech Republic will have to close on Friday as the country tightens its coronavirus restrictions. However, three major exhibitions, showcasing unique loans from abroad, have been given an exemption by the Ministry of Culture. The decision has evoked sharp reactions from other gallerists, who call it unfair.

National Gallery curator Lucie Němečková will lead the virtual commented tours,  photo: archive of National Gallery

Despite the introduction of stricter anti-Covid restrictions on Friday, three ongoing Prague exhibitions are allowed to stay open. One of them is Rembrandt: Portrait of a Man, which is underway at the National Gallery’s Kinský Palace on Old Town Square, featuring loans from the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York and the National Gallery London.

The exception also applies to the National Museum’s exhibit Kings of the Sun, showcasing valuable artefacts from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and the Treasures of World Philately, also on display at the National Museum, featuring, among other things, the unique blue and red Mauritius “Post Office” Stamps.

Lubomír Zaorálek,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Culture minister Lubomír Zaorálek argues that these exhibitions were created at enormous financial costs and are unrepeatable in the foreseeable future. His decision has been approved by the country’s chief hygiene officer Jarmila Rážová.

Speaking to the Czech Television, Mr Zaorálek highlighted that the institutions have to adhere to strict hygienic rules:

Leoš Válka,  photo: archive of RPI
“The Hygiene Office has set up very strict conditions. And since the events are truly unique and have an international character, we decided that under these very strict rules we can let them stay open.”

According to the conditions, tickets can only be sold online and the institutions must have a reservation system, determining exact the time of the visit. The institutions also have to provide their visitors with FFP2 respirators.

National Gallery in Prague | Photo: Packa,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 2.5
Culture Minister Lubmoír Zaorálek has also given exemption to private galleries handle sales of works of art, which can run under the same rules as small retailers.

The move has elicited a sharp response from a number of other gallerists around the country, who say such an approach is unfair. Among them is Leoš Válka, one of the founders of the DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in Prague's Holešovice district:

“It’s very difficult to understand the criteria for the selection. In our opinion, probably the only criterion should be the heightened risk of spreading the virus.

“For example in the shopping centre Nový Smíchov, the average number of visitors is 63,000 per day, while in galleries, you count visitors in hundreds at the most, especially in these times.

Photo: 46173,  Pixabay / CC0

“So I would say there are a hundred or maybe even thousand times less visitors in these institutions than in shopping centres. Still, shopping centres are open, while galleries, expect for a few exceptions, are closed. So for us, it doesn’t make a sense.”

Mr Válka is not planning to apply for an exemption, since his gallery doesn’t have any international loans at the moment. Meanwhile, some 40 major galleries around the country have signed an open letter to the culture minister asking to let them remain open.