ifa: How did your institution cope during the COVID-19 crisis and how has it managed since? How has the current situation changed the work of your gallery and its conception of itself?
Ayşe Gür: When the pandemic phase and restrictions began in the big cities, we were in the process of opening our exhibition of Gül Ilgaz, the last project of the season. The opening was due to be at the beginning of April, but we had to postpone to the earliest possible date, which was, at that time, impossible to predict precisely. We immediately closed the gallery doors to visitors, as most Istanbul galleries did within the same week. The government prohibited all openings and events until further notice. Some easing, with many limitations, was announced at the end of June.
The management of Millî Reasürans took the necessary decisions for us to continue our work: many departments shifted to online office work, and in parallel we, as the gallery, also began working online and did not return to the office until the end of May. Throughout the art sector, the pattern was the same: all galleries were closed between March and June. At the beginning of June, some commercial galleries reopened with strict limitations: only four or five people visiting at the same time, open just four days a week, and only in the afternoons. By June, we began occasionally using the office again, still working online most of the time. We decided to re-open to the public with the beginning of our next exhibition season by the beginning of October.
ifa: How do you address your public in this new context? What kind of public do you expect and what do you expect from your public?
Gür: We took some decisions to adapt to the emerging conditions. We are working intensively on a new website, which we aim to launch before the new year. Online reach has become even more important. With the new website, we are planning to present a 360° overview of our exhibitions, with digital versions of all printed materials and detailed visual and written resources on the shows. We expect art viewers to get more information online, and a general shift from physical visits to online visits, at least for some time ahead.
ifa: What do you consider to be the primary social responsibilities of your gallery?
Gür: We are a corporate gallery with a basis of social responsibility, and our primary goal is to provide an artistic climate in which the public finds space to refresh mental and spiritual community health.
ifa: Do you see your museum as a place of political discourse?
ifa: How can museums work internationally, post-nationally and responsibly today?
Gür: Our intention has always followed the same path. We believe that in this era of widespread communication and globalisation, we are a single world of constant interaction. As the epidemic made dramatically clear, none of us have the chance to live independently from the rest. We are fully connected to each other. We believe that international communication will become even more fundamental to all aspects of life.
ifa: Museums nowadays perform many functions. How would you define what the museum is or should be today?
Gür: Museums and all art institutions will carry an important role in influencing social psychology and collecting social data on new and emerging issues. Art is one of the lead areas which cannot rely on online connection alone, because art is always an interactive and human-based experience. People need to get into contact face to face, and physically in connection with the work of art. It is an experience of aura, of atmosphere. Art is a humanist need. So art institutions and museums will be places to take a deep breath and re-group from all the stress and depressing conditions of life.
Ayşe Gür is manager of the Millî Reasürans Sanat Gallery in Istanbul.
Under the title 'MuseumsNow', ifa asked actors from international museums about their current experiences, challenges and visions – also against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic. The interviews and reports provide an insight into current museum practices and civil society actions of museums worldwide.