Claiming That Art Is ‘Essential,’ Some California Galleries Have Reopened in Blatant Defiance of Stay-at-Home Orders

Two dealers even say they are willing to “risk fines, arrest, or jail" to operate their business.

Quent Cordair Fine Art in Napa, California, reopened on Monday. Courtesy of the gallery.

As art dealers across the US wonder when they will be able to reopen for business, two galleries in the San Francisco Bay Area have taken matters into their own hands and thrown open their doors in brazen defiance of stay-at-home orders.

“We are well beyond the conditions under which there remains any practical, legal, or moral justification for keeping our business closed indefinitely,” Linda Cordair, the co-owner of Quent Cordair Fine Art in Napa, which reopened Monday, told Artnet News.

“We’re being told to sit obediently at home, watching everything we’ve worked so hard to build and maintain become more endangered by the day, for no other reason than a fear of what might happen, with no evidence that it will happen, and with no end date in sight for when the local or state authorities might allow us to reopen.”

As of Wednesday morning, Napa County had confirmed two coronavirus-related deaths and 75 infections. Statewide, California has had nearly 55,000 confirmed cases, and more than 2,200 deaths.

Meanwhile, the Art Ventures Gallery in Menlo Park reopened Saturday for limited hours and will do so again on May 6.  

“Don’t forget about us,” the gallery’s owner, Katharina Powers, told SFGate. “Art is so important. We’re more important than other businesses. I want to be taken seriously.” She added: “Art is the highest form of hope, and it’s essential.”

Cordair, who runs her gallery with her husband, Quent, announced her intention to reopen in an op-ed published by the Napa Valley Register this week, saying they were willing to “risk fines, arrest, or jail” to operate their business. Quent also tweeted a quote he attributed to Ayn Rand.

“We simply can’t wait any longer,” Linda told Artnet News. “We’re already between a rock and a hard place, and we’re choosing to start digging our way out.”

The gallery, which had been closed for six weeks, specializes in “Romantic Realism,” and mostly sells allegorical and figurative works that “celebrate the moments of happiness, joy, and success possible to man on earth,” according to the gallery’s website. 

In Menlo Park, Katharina Powers has instructed visitors to the Art Ventures Gallery to wear masks, remain 12 feet apart, and sign in through a guest book, should she need to trace contacts.

But Powers still said she received warnings from the Menlo Park chief of police and the mayor’s office, as well as numerous emails from local residents urging her to follow protocols.

“Everybody who walked in was not concerned,” Powers told SFGate. “They were relieved that they could actually talk to someone real. I don’t understand where the harm was.”

Linda Cordair said that supporters have cheered her own decision to reopen.

“We refuse to die here in the tunnel,” she said. “We’re pushing through to the light, and we’re already seeing sales pick up for having done so, with hundreds of messages of support from around the nation and the world.”

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