French museums beg to reopen as blockbusters go unseen

It was to be a highlight of the art calendar: 230 works by impressionist master Henri Matisse gathered at France's leading modern art museum to mark 150 years since his birth.

French museums beg to reopen as blockbusters go unseen
An employee walks at the Centre Georges Pompidou modern art museum, currently closed to the public. Photo: AFP

But thanks to the pandemic, the show at the Pompidou Centre in Paris stayed open for only 10 days after it began in October, and it looks highly unlikely to resume before the paintings are packed away again at the end of February.

Only 17,000 people secured a ticket in time — an abysmally low figure for a museum that attracts more than three million visitors each year in normal times.

“For an artist that was absolutely not melancholy, this is something very melancholy,” said Pompidou curator Aurelie Verdier.

This week, desperate museums demanded a chance to reopen — even if only partially — with two petitions to the government signed by hundreds within the industry and wider art community.

“For an hour, a day, a week or a month — let us reopen our doors, even if we have to shut them again in the case of another lockdown,” it says.

READ ALSO: Paris Pompidou Centre to close for four-year refit


The Louvre Museum in Paris remains closed. The rebellion of museums is growing against a closure they believe they do not deserve: petitions and proposals were sent to Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot's cabinet for a quick reopening. Photo: AFP

'It's a nightmare'

Museums had hoped to reopen in December when the last lockdown ended, but as with restaurants, theatres and cinemas, they have remained shut as infection rates remain stubbornly high.

Some exhibitions — such as a photo exhibition at the Grand Palais featuring Man Ray, Diane Arbus and Robert Frank — have been and gone without anyone getting to see them.

Many shows are unable to prolong or postpone their dates, because the paintings are booked in elsewhere around the world or must make room for the next exhibition — always planned years in advance.

“It's a nightmare. The dates (for opening and closing) change endlessly,” said Christophe Leribault of the Petit Palais, where an ambitious exhibition of Danish art was delayed and ultimately managed just four weeks of public viewings.

The empty entrance of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Photo: AFP

“I managed to negotiate some extensions. But after a year, we had to return the paintings to make room for the next show on the great Italian painter Giovanni Boldoni, while also having this concern that his works might get blocked in other exhibitions in Italy.”

The petitioners say they are ready to accept tougher health protocols and even more limited numbers than during the brief summer respite — following the example of other countries such as Italy which has partially reopened many cultural sites.

They say art is a powerful way of keeping up people's spirits, particularly the young who have been denied much of their social life for almost a year.

“Museums are without doubt the places where human interactions and the risk of contamination are the least proven,” said another petition published in Le Monde newspaper this week and signed by many public figures, including singer and former first lady Carla Bruni.

There is the added grievance that small, private galleries have been allowed to reopen, and are often packed with people in desperate search of diversion.

'Have courage'

Frederic Jousset, on the board of the Louvre and head of the ArtNova investment fund, said museums lacked the economic clout to pressure the government.

But he held out hope for “the hundreds of petitioners coming out of the woods to reveal the thoughts of the silent majority”.

“Museums are effectively open already: the heating is on, the lights are burning, the guards are there,” he told AFP.

Soldiers patrol the empty entrance hall of the Louvre Museum in Paris, as it remains closed due to the pandemic. The Louvre suffered a drop in attendance of 72% compared to 2019, and a loss of revenue of more than 90 million euros, the museum announced in January. Photo: AFP

READ ALSO: Paris' Louvre Museum sees 70 percent fall in visitors due to covid resitrictions

Unlike theatres, no dress rehearsals are needed, the petitioners add. They just need to call in a few furloughed staff and the doors could reopen tomorrow — perhaps only on certain days, in low-infection areas, or for certain groups such as pupils and students.

They accept that such a move risks inciting jealousy on the part of other shuttered sectors, such as cinemas and theatres.

But for the sake of the nation's mental and economic health, the government “must have the courage to make the choice — and quickly,” said Jousset.


Member comments

  1. I can see their point – museums are certainly way better setup for enforcing social distancing than cinemas or restaurants.

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Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).