As One of the First Major Museums to Reopen in California, the de Young Says It Is ‘Ready to Provide Succor’ to San Franciscans

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco has also announced its planned reopening date.

The de Young Museum in San Francisco. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
The de Young Museum in San Francisco. Courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The de Young Museum in San Francisco will reopen for members on September 22 and to the public on September 25, making it the first major art institution in the city, and one of the first in the state, to do so since US museums abruptly shuttered in March.

“We are thrilled that we will soon reopen our doors and resume engagement with our friends and communities, especially when California is still undergoing so many hardships,” Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, told Artnet News in an email. “Our air-conditioned galleries are ready to provide succor to those who are weary of the smoky skies and bad air caused by the terrible fires across the state.”

When it opens its doors, the de Young will offer free general admission and discounted special exhibition tickets through December 2021 to essential workers. Advanced reservations are recommended, but a limited of number of tickets will be available each day at the door.

The city of San Francisco announced on Friday that it was giving museums and galleries the green light to reopen beginning September 21, pending approval of their health and safety plans. The de Young, having already devised its reopening procedures in anticipation of the day it would be able to implement them, was ready to act on these new permissions right away.

Vandals spray painted a sign for the upcoming Frida Kahlo exhibit at the de Young Museum during a night when nearby statues of Junipero Serra, U.S. Grant, and Francis Scott Key were toppled in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Crews worked to mitigate the damage early Saturday morning, June 20, 2020. Photo by Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/the Mercury News via Getty Images.

Photo by Karl Mondon/MediaNews Group/the Mercury News via Getty Images.

“The uncertainty of the reopening date has definitely been a great challenge, and we’ve had to pivot on many occasions!” said Campbell. “A task force with employees across museum departments has been hard at work over the summer, liaising with city authorities and planning and replanning the reopening of the de Young and Legion of Honor.

Other institutions are beginning to announce their plans as well. The Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, will have member preview days on October 1 and 2 before reopening to the public on October 3. The de Young’s sister museum, the Legion of Honor, is looking toward a mid-October reopening.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the city’s Contemporary Jewish Museum have yet to announce opening dates, but are likely feeling pressure to get visitors back inside the museum. Without revenue from admissions, ticketed events, and gift shop and restaurants sales, cultural organizations across the world have been hard hit financially by the year’s extended closures, leading to widespread layoffs in the field.

“We’re an institution that is heavily dependent on earned revenue, so extended closure has had a huge financial impact on our bottom line,” said Campbell. “We were fortunate to receive a federal loan in the late spring and our board and community responded very generously to our recovery fund appeal. Even with these contributions, we were still compelled to make the painful decision to reduce staff a few months into the closure. This was a very hard blow and we are thrilled to be able to bring furloughed staff members back to the museums after reopening.”

The state saw a limited wave of openings in June, but those institutions, including the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, the Laguna Art Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, were soon forced to shut down once again, when Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order reinstating statewide bans on indoor business activities effective July 13.

California's new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy” presents a new color-coded set of reopening guidelines based on the spread of the coronavirus. Courtesy of the state of California.

California’s new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.” Courtesy of the state of California.

After spiking in July and August, infection rates have dropped across California over the last month. Business restrictions will be loosened based on the number of new cases in a county and the percentage of positive coronavirus tests. Museums can operate at 25 percent capacity in counties that are in tier two, designated red for “substantial” risk levels.

Under the new reopening plan, some institutions in San Diego’s Balboa Park museum complex began welcoming the public on Labor Day weekend, including the San Diego Museum of Art on September 5. Other art institutions that have followed suit include the Laguna Art Museum (September 10) and the Bowers Museum (September 12). The grounds at the Huntington Library, Art, Museum, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino have been open since July 1, but the art galleries and other indoor facilities still remain closed.

At the de Young, returning visitors can catch “Uncanny Valley: Being Human in the Age of AI,” the group show featuring artist interpretations of the implications of artificial intelligence, which was open for less than a month before lockdown, and “Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” which was supposed to debut in March after a blockbuster run at the Brooklyn Museum.

“Our Frida Kahlo exhibition closed before it opened,” Campbell said. “The paintings, costumes and artifacts that comprise this show have been hanging in darkness for six months. Frida is dear to the heart of many Bay Area residents and we are happy that our visitors will finally be able to enjoy this beautiful exhibition.”

But the closure also meant postponing the museum’s highly anticipated Judy Chicago retrospective. Originally slated to open in May, it will now bow in summer 2021, leaving the de Young scrambling to come up with a placeholder. The result is the “de Young Open,” featuring over 800 works by local artists.

“With our loan exhibition schedule up in the air, we decided to focus on the community by issuing an open call to all Bay Area artists,” Campbell said. “Anticipating perhaps a few hundred submissions, it was mind-blowing to see 12,000 works from almost 6,000 artists come through.”


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