After the longest shutdown since the second world war, museums in the UK are preparing to welcome visitors back with open (but socially distanced) arms when they are finally allowed to unlock the doors later this spring.
As long as data allows, museums in mainland Scotland will be permitted to reopen from 26 April and those in England will follow on 17 May. More information is expected soon on when Wales and Northern Ireland can reopen (and, of course, there are a few lucky corners of the British Isles where museums are already welcoming visitors back).
As the countdown to widescale reopening gets under way, Museums Journal has taken a look at some exhibitions to look forward to when Scotland and England go #BackToMuseums. Keep an eye out for more from us when dates for Wales and Northern Ireland are announced.
The Box, Plymouth
Opening: 18 May 2021
One of the UK’s newest museums, The Box opened its doors in September last year and, despite spending much of the time since then in lockdown, has so far welcomed more than 30,000 visitors. When it opens its doors in May, visitors will be able to see Wampum: Stories From the Shells of Native America, a new exhibition exploring the history, art and culture of the Native Americans who met the passengers of the Mayflower and ensured their survival.
The show will feature a native American wampum belt created for The Box by 100 Wampanoag craftspeople, alongside seven historic wampum belts on loan from the British Museum and Saffron Waldon Museum. Along with The Box’s Mayflower Exhibition, Wampum is the first exhibition in the UK to be solely curated by the Wampanoag people, and puts the Native American experience of the colonisation of Massachusetts at its heart.
Celebrate going #BackToMuseums
Opening: 1 May 2021
Scotland’s national design hub is welcoming visitors back with a UK-exclusive exhibition. Night Fever: Designing Club Culture is a large-scale examination of the relationship between club culture and design, charting the evolution of nightclub design from the 1960s to today. From New York’s Studio 54 to Manchester’s Haçienda, nightclubs have always encouraged experimental and radical design, and the exhibition explores how club culture merges architecture and interior design with sound, light, fashion, graphics and visual effects.
The exhibition will include a new section on Scotland’s own distinct club culture, including legendary club nights in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Paisley. It features films, photography, posters, flyers, and fashion, as well as light and music installations.
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
Opening: 19 May 2021
Dulwich Picture Gallery has taken advantage of lockdown to make some big changes to its public spaces. Its welcome hall has been reimagined to provide a bright, airy, and Covid-safe space, featuring bold new murals by the artist and former gallery team member, Sinta Tantra. The gallery has also developed a new presentation of its permanent collection, which offers a variety of experiences ranging from contemplative moments to startling visual encounters.
Visitors will have another chance to see the temporary exhibition, Unearthed: Photography's Roots, which traces the history of photography through depictions of nature, which has been extended to 30 August. Helen Frankenhalter: Radical Beauty, an exhibition on the abstract expressionist Helen Frankenhalter, is scheduled to open on 15 September.
Henry Moore Studios & Gardens, Hertfordshire
Opening: 31 March 2021
At a time when most museums and galleries in England remain inaccessible, the outdoor grounds of the sculptor's former home will open to visitors in compliance with Covid regulations. The rural setting served as a source of inspiration for Moore, influencing the scale and scope of many of his works, and visitors will be able to view Moore’s sculptures in the landscape where he conceived them.
Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool
Opening: 'As soon as restrictions are lifted'
National Museums Liverpool will reopen the doors of Lady Lever Art Gallery with a brand-new exhibition, The Last Bohemian: Augustus John, displaying around 40 works by one of Britain's most controversial artists. The exhibition will include 18 loans from across the north-west and National Museum Wales.
Augustus John (1878-1961) was Britain's leading portrait painter at the turn of the 20th century. The exhibition will shine a spotlight on John’s infamous "beheaded" portrait of Lord Leverhulme, exploring the events that provoked Lever to destroy the portrait. The scandal was leaked to the press, causing outrage and protest.
Portraits of the poets William Butler Yeats and Dylan Thomas also feature in the show, which will take visitors through key moments of John’s life and his artistic achievements. The exhibition runs until 30 August 2021.
Science and Industry Museum, Manchester
Opening: 'When it is safe to do so'
The museum recently announced the completion of its new Special Exhibition Gallery. The inaugural exhibition hosted in the gallery will be Top Secret: From Ciphers to Cyber Security, curated by the Science Museum Group with the help of GCHQ, the UK’s intelligence and cyber agency.
Visitors will uncover the world of codebreaking, ciphers and secret communications by exploring over a century's worth of communications intelligence. From the first world war to the latest in cyber security, stories will be explored through handwritten documents, declassified files and artefacts from the Science Museum Group's and GCHQ's historic collections.
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), London
Opening: Late May
The V&A has two blockbuster exhibitions lined up to welcome visitors back at the end of May. Alice: Curiouser & Curiouser is an immersive and theatrical show exploring the origins, adaptations and reinventions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland over 157 years. Featuring art, fashion and photography, the exhibition will chart the evolution of Lewis Carroll's work from manuscript to global phenomenon.
Visitors will also be able to see the museum's Epic Iran show, which runs until 12 September. Exploring 5,000 years of Iranian art, design and culture, the exhibition shines a light on one of the greatest historic civilisations, its journey into the 21st century and its artistic achievements.