Henry Moore Institute in Leeds back open after closing for six months due to coronavirus pandemic

A new exhibition by German artist Paloma Varga Weisz had been open for just five days when the announcement of the coronavirus lockdown was made back in March.

By Lindsay Pantry
Friday, 4th September 2020, 5:53 am
The exhibition had been open for just five days when lockdown was announced
The exhibition had been open for just five days when lockdown was announced

This immediately put the team at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds to work - and marked the beginning of “international negotiations” to ensure the collection of sculpture they had worked so hard to bring to Leeds was able to stay long enough for people to enjoy it.

And now, six months on, art appreciators are finally able to see the exhibition, a first for the UK, again - despite it originally being due to close in June.

“Seeing art is a very physical experience - bringing people together to enjoy sculpture - and to not be able to do that these past few months has been saddening. It was an absolute relief to open the doors on Tuesday, and see people waiting, ready to come in,” head of the Henry Moore Institute, Laurence Sillars, told the Yorkshire Post. “It was something we had been working towards from the moment we closed our doors.”

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Part of the exhibition by German artist Paloma Varga Weisz

During lockdown, the city’s art lovers had been able to enjoy one of Varga Weisz’s pieces, Bumpman on a Tree Trunk, outside the Institute’s impressive facade on the Headrow, but now, they are able to experience the full exhibition, Bumped Body, at last after it was extended until January. Subsequent exhibitions have also been moved so not a single show has been cancelled.

“It wasn’t a simple task,” Mr Sillars said. “But this has been a global pandemic and there has been global empathy from museums, collectors and artists. We’re all part of a big system and we are in the same boat. The responses when we began to try to extend the exhibition were almost instant - there was a view that we all wanted people to enjoy the exhibition.”

As with a lot of things post-pandemic, a visit to the Institute is now different.

Still free of charge, now visitors are advised to pre-book online, meaning that some family clusters almost have a sense of a “private view” getting to experience the museum almost to themselves, such are the limits on numbers.

Six months on, the exhibition is finally open to the public once again

Closure for the pandemic also gave the opportunity for a “revamp” of the building itself.

“We’ve been thinking very much about the experience of visiting, and people’s nervousness about coming to museums and galleries,” Mr Sillars said. “We not only wanted to make sure it was very safe, but that it was still an enjoyable experience.”

Throughout the last six months, the Institute has developed an online offering in order to maintain the “vital” connection it has with its communities, including offering educational elements to the legions of home-schooling parents.

But it has also been able to continue with one of its primary aims from the setting up of the Henry Moore Foundation - supporting artists.

In total, the Foundation, which runs the Institute, has given £60,000 in grants to more than 40 artists - many of whom live or work in Yorkshire.

“Financial support for artists making exhibitions was one of Henry Moore’s primary wishes when setting up the Foundation,” Mr Sillars said. “When the pandemic struck we very swiftly looked at how we could provide an immediate lifeline to artists - just as Henry Moore received financial support from an ex-serviceman’s grant after he fought in World War One, which enabled him to study sculpture at Leeds College of Art.”