They have begun an ‘#NGVEveryDay’ social media push, to get existing content out on social media. One of the first was a virtual tour of the fashion exhibition Collecting Comme, allowing users to move through the gallery as if they were in the room.
“We have been inundated with positive feedback,” Ellwood said. “This is what people want to see: a public institution being community minded. Being quick to respond has been very important.
“So many people who find themselves in isolation look to public institutions for comfort and connectedness.”
The NGV began a big push to get its collection online six years ago and by now have 90 per cent digitised; a resource they can now mine for inspiration.
But they are working hard to make even more material accessible; material that they usually wouldn’t necessarily put online such as catalogue essays.
“At one level this is an exciting opportunity, with a thoughtful and devoted audience with time on their hands… hopefully they will come out of the other end even closer to this collection and the psyche of the collection.”
Their experience with online resources so far has not been that they detract from physical visits but instead they complement each other: “[Patrons] get far more informed when they do come for a regular visit.”
On a business level, Ellwood says it is too early to publicly discuss the impact on the gallery of the shutdown, especially as so much is still unknown.
His staff are moving to work remotely and “at this stage we are doing everything we can that’s practical and appropriate to keep our people active and employed,” he said, including redeploying some staff to new areas.
But he “can’t respond beyond two to four weeks” at this stage, he said. They are in close consultation with the state government.
The NGV is far from alone in moving quickly to boost their digital presence in the face of coronavirus. In Melbourne, galleries such as Flinders Lane Gallery and Nicole Thomson Gallery are promoting their exhibitions with online tours. Others are taking advantage of the Art Basel Hong Kong’s new ‘virtual viewing rooms’ designed to connect galleries and collectors around the world.
NGV exhibition KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness will be available as a virtual tour on Saturday 21 March, and Haring|Basquiat Crossing Lines on March 28.
Nick Miller is Arts Editor of The Age.