Thermal body scans on arrival and appointments booked via ticketing websites are among the measures that art and antiques firms will take to ensure they can trade ‘Covid-19 secure’ from June 15.
Auction houses and art and antiques shops and centres had all hoped to be able to reopen their premises from June 1, but in a Downing Street briefing on May 25 Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushed back the date to June 15 for businesses in England.
The original date was conditional on declining rates of infection which has led to the delay.
Devolved nations of the UK other than England will be easing their lockdowns at a pace determined by their own governments.
Christie’s first live sale with bidders in the room in London since lockdown will be its Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds auction on June 25 (although in a statement it said it anticipates the “majority of activity in our auctions will be remote”).
Sotheby’s announced last week that it was bringing together its best material for a cross-category evening sale of Old Masters, Impressionist & Modern, Modern British and Contemporary Art. It will be held in London on July 28 but the auction house has yet to confirm access details regarding live auctions and exhibitions.
Fellows is installing a HikVision thermal camera in reception areas in both its Mayfair premises and saleroom headquarters in Birmingham to test visitors and staff for high temperatures.
The firm will also operate an online automated booking system for customers looking to visit in person for valuations and viewing. Physical viewings in both London and Birmingham will restart subject to government guidelines in July with restricted numbers of viewers and floor markings to guarantee safe spacing.
Lots and equipment will be cleaned and checked with UV light after each customer has viewed a lot and items will be similarly treated before dispatch.
Managing director Stephen Whittaker said: “Our online timed sales have evolved and we will continue to develop these but we hope to hold live sales in the future, though with social distancing for our colleagues and customers it will need careful management to ensure that everyone is safe.”
Woolley & Wallis will begin live auctions from June 17 with its English & European Ceramics and Glass sale. Its upstairs saleroom in Salisbury has room for up to 30 people obeying the two-metre distance rule with room for more if overflow is needed.
Not all 30 people will be able to face the auctioneer but there will be screens showing the rostrum. Chairman John Axford said: “We are not expecting to get that many requests to fill the room. We will not be able to provide viewings on morning of sales in order to be able to set up the space for the auction. We expect more people will view before and book a phone line or bid online. We do not expect a lot of people will want to sit in the saleroom for three hours.”
The company will keep staff to a minimum and many will be based in its warehouse on the edge of town to allow for safer distancing. Clients will be asked to book to view.
At Roseberys in West Norwood the early June pictures and antiques sales will be live online only, with an auctioneer on the rostrum but with no bidders in the room.
It is currently discussing room bidding for its Islamic sale on June 16.
Roseberys joint managing director Vicki Wonfor said: “If we do allow room bidding then it will be on a basis where you would book a seat for the auction to attend to ensure social distancing can be adhered to.”
At Sworders in Stansted Mountfitchet the first sale after the new government rules come into force will be the mid-century and modern design auction on June 23.
Chairman Guy Schooling said: “Opening to the public will not affect our method of selling. We will look to offer viewing by appointment as soon as we can but we will still be unable to have many people in the saleroom together safely.
“The long-term future is online. This crisis is, I think, accelerating inevitable change.”
Helen Carless, managing director of Lawrences of Crewkerne, said the auction house will offer “extended viewing times and all sales will be sold online-only. The offices will begin opening from June 8 for phone calls and June 15 for valuations by appointment. Sale dates will be announced soon. It feels good to be back!”
Dealers are also gearing up for the reopening of their shops on June 15.
Mark Dodgson, secretary general at the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA), said: “Generally the guidance is sensible, pragmatic and helpful for dealers with small galleries and shops. The nature of our sector means it is reasonably well prepared for many of the restrictions, as many already operate by appointment only or in the case of shops and galleries have a doorbell.
“Dealers will need to ensure they display clear signs reminding customers of social distancing and hygiene guidelines and to have hand sanitiser readily available.
“Some dealers may need to rethink how they lay out their shops and where objects are placed to minimise the risk of transmission.
“When carrying out their risk assessment, dealers will need to consider whether the objects for sale are likely to be touched and how they can keep track of which ones have been handled by visitors.
“Dealers may consider having a policy of staff demonstrating objects to customers without the customer physically touching them.”
LAPADA, which has postponed this year’s Art & Antiques Fair (held in September in London’s Berkeley Square) until 2021, has been working with dealers on how to adhere to the new guidelines.
Freya Simms, chief executive of the association, added: “Members are planning to use the reopening as an opportunity to email or write to their customers to reassure them with the social distancing and hygiene policies they are putting in place as well as be able to market their stock.
“This period has been a wake-up call to members who were yet to embrace the digital age and has certainly helped to accelerate plans to develop a robust online presence both for sales and profile.
“We have received positive reports of online sales by a number of LAPADA members and are working hard with the membership to help them find ways to connect and communicate with clients virtually to maintain and develop relationships.
“With physical fairs out of the picture for the time being, the trade must creatively explore how they can develop interaction and a marketplace to engage and inspire clients to buy from them.”
At Mayfair’s John Martin Gallery the premises have been redecorated and it will be using ticketing website Eventbrite for visitors to book slots. It will reopen on June 15 and host an exhitbion of Scottish painter Leon Morrocco (b.1942) from June 25.
John Martin said: “We are operating with reduced hours but using Eventbrite so visitors can have half-hour timed slots. A squirt of sanitiser at the door and then they can have the exhibition all to themselves. With reports that half of private galleries may close, any visitors – even a few a day – will slowly start the cultural cogs turning.”
The gallery will also open later, until 7pm, if customers book slots to visit after work.
Christopher Battiscombe, director general of the Society of London Art Dealers (SLAD), said: “It is easier for galleries to reopen safely than it is for most shops, since they can arrange for their clients to visit at well-spaced intervals.
“But I suspect that there may also be a certain amount of concern to see how much client numbers are affected by understandable lingering caution about straying too far from home and, above all, the continuing obstacles to international travel.”
Antiques centres are also adapting. Great Grooms, a centre in Hungerford, Berkshire, planned to open on June 1 but postponed until the 15th following the government’s announcements.
Managing director James Podger said: “We have all of the necessary protective screens, sanitisers and a one-way system in place – one staircase up and another down – and will be compliant with all government guidelines to protect our staff, dealers and clients.”
Outdoor markets, such as Portobello Road market, will be able to reopen from June 1 but indoor market events will have to wait until after June 15.
Sunbury Antiques Market had planned to restart operations at Kempton Park Racecourse with an ‘outside only’ event on June 9. However, it said “due to restrictions that would have been imposed on our market” it was not possible.
It is hoping to reopen its racecourse event on June 30 for outdoor and indoor exhibitors. If it does so, owner Edward Cruttenden said that it will be with careful precautions over the spacing of exhibitors and monitored numbers of visitors, who will also be advised to wear face coverings.
“It is such a fluid and dynamic thing at the moment, it keeps changing,” he added. “We’re going to have to get slowly back to it – it’s going to take time to get back to full capacity.”
IACF has announced its restart plan. “We anticipate Runway Monday will be our first show as lockdown rules ease,” said Will Thomas, managing director of the antiques fairs and markets organiser, “though that may change depending on government advice. It’s completely outdoors and it’s easy to move date-wise because of its nature.”
Its Peterborough Festival of Antiques will not go ahead in July but it is planning to proceed with the biannual event’s October slot. The Shepton Mallet Antiques & Collectors Fair on June 12-14 has also been cancelled but the September event is scheduled to go ahead.
For businesses in England – including shops – guidance can found be via gov.co.uk/workingsafely
For the situation in other parts of the UK use these links:
Northern Ireland: nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19