After Covid-Extended Stay in Seoul, 106 Modernist Works Return to Israel Museum

The coronavirus pandemic has forced museums to make tough decisions while remaining nimble, rethinking their plans again and again. There have been budget cuts and layoffs. Shows have been cut short (the painfully brief Gerhard Richter survey in New York!) and indefinitely delayed. And all sorts of health protocols have been adopted. Another scene from this hardscrabble environment played out last week, as scores of modernist paintings loaned by the Israel Museum to the Hangaram Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea, finally returned home—about six months later than originally planned.

In total, 106 paintings, by Claude Monet, Paul Signac, Edward Degas, and others landed at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel after their extended sojourn abroad, the Times of Israel reported. The museum has posted a video of a Korean Air jet being waved into its parking spot and the carefully crated works being removed. (That is how you do a PR hit!)

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The works were sent to South Korea for a show at the Hangaram titled “Monet to Cézanne: Impressionist and Post‐Impressionist Masterworks from the Israel Museum, Jerusalem” that was scheduled to run from mid-January until mid-May. Social-distancing measures shuttered the show soon after its unveiling, though, and the works were packed up in May to be sent home. But then Seoul curators requested a loan extension so that they could get the paintings in front of people for a couple more months. It was granted. Efforts to ship the works home after August were nixed by flight cancellations resulting from health measures in both countries, the Times reported.

Paul Gauguin's 'Upa Upa (The Fire Dance),' 1891, was among the works on loan.

Paul Gauguin’s Upa Upa (The Fire Dance), 1891, was among the works on view.

That shipment was not the only case of lockdowns elsewhere contributing to inconveniences in the South Korean art world. Some works scheduled to appear in the Busan Biennale, which closed earlier this month, were not able to make the trip because they were included in far-flung exhibitions that had their dates moved.

The Israel loan included a bevy of paintings by major names, like a 1907 Monet water lily, landscapes by Gauguin and Cézanne, and Renoir portraits.

Though the paintings are now home, the Israel Museum is currently closed because of health measures. In Seoul, meanwhile, authorities responded to an uptick in cases by instituting new rules on Tuesday that restrict activities at clubs, restaurants, and cafes, but most museums remain accessible via advance reservations.


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