MUSEUM 2050 Dispatches

Hello from the ‘new normal’!

Leigh Tanner

As I write this, I am ensconced in my office at the Yuz Museum, reopened to the public since
April 1st. The novelty of operational adjustments such as visitor number limitations,
temperature checks, mandatory mask-wearing and evidence of a green health QR code has
worn off as the city’s muggy summer likeness has descended. Audiences are returning, but it is
hard to say when, if ever, things might return to “the way things were,” even as we delineate
plans for future programs. When considering the timelines for exhibitions involving multiple
venues across the globe, rescheduling in the midst of an unfolding crisis can feel a bit like
assembling a jigsaw puzzle as subsequent pieces go missing. The logistical challenges of
transporting artists, collaborators, and even artworks across borders now feel starkly
unsolvable and so we’ve been talking a lot lately about being present in Shanghai: looking to
the Yuz Collection and the local network of people, places and institutions Yuz has built over
many years.

When I consider the situation through the lens of Museum 2050, I push aside the practical
realities of crisis management during a pandemic and feel deep anxiety for the many museums
that will not make it. Nicole and I initiated the platform to consider and investigate the
possibilities for new funding models, organizational structures and content production systems
in the museum ecosystem in China. Never did we expect these fledgling institutions to
experience a trial by fire that has brought colossal institutions elsewhere to their knees.
Perhaps this is indeed a time for challenging existing models, just not in the way we envisioned
three years ago.

Void of a normally hectic travel schedule, I am taking the time to reconsider and reimagine
what it means to be a museum at this time and how Museum 2050 should be evolving to meet
those needs. When we talk about the sustainability of cultural institutions, it is usually in
reference to the best of times. What does this mean for survival “in these trying times”?
Recently an excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s Keeping Quiet that the Institute of Contemporary Arts
at NYU Shanghai (ICA) posted on their WeChat account has been swirling around in my head.

If we were not so single-minded
About keeping our lives moving,
And for once could do nothing,
Perhaps a huge silence
Might interrupt this sadness
Of never understanding ourselves
And of threatening ourselves with death.

As the ICA opined, it seems the perfect moment to pause, take stock and understand ourselves

About the Author:

Leigh Tanner is Deputy Director at the Yuz Foundation and Co-Founder of Museum 2050. She is based in Shanghai.

About the Series:

Museum 2050 has always been about bringing people together through our community’s shared passion for museums and institutional development. As the world slowly and carefully starts reopening, we are checking in weekly with various members of our broader network to share personal reflections, anecdotes and musings about how they and their institutions have been operating in the face of this pandemic. In these incredibly difficult times for all, we hope that these brief vignettes from around the world bring us closer together, and remind us that even when the world stops and museum doors close, we still persevere.