Magazzino Italian Art, Cold Spring, New York. Photo: Montse Zamorano.

Magazzino Italian Art Tests New Social Distancing Technology Ahead of Reopening

As art institutions in the United States work on plans to reopen amid the Covid-19 pandemic, administrators are tasked with developing new protocols that will protect staff and visitors and are rethinking the museum experience. While professional organizations such as the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) have issued guidelines that address how to prevent overcrowding, manage facilities, and communicate with the public, museums will still have much to figure out for themselves. For Magazzino Italian Art in Cold Spring, New York, this meant countless discussions about how to successfully resume operations.

After much brainstorming, the Hudson Valley museum, which is dedicated to postwar and contemporary Italian art, has come up with a solution that best suits the twenty-thousand-square-foot space and its visitor demographic. The institution has adopted new social distancing technology that uses radio waves to measure and maintain safe distances between visitors. Developed by AME (Advanced Microwave Engineering), which is based in Florence, the new technology is packaged in a wearable device that will vibrate and flash a red LED light to alert the user when they are no longer a safe distance away from another museumgoer.

Originally developed as a proximity warning system for the construction industry, the EGOpro Active Tags have been used for many years to reduce the risk of accidents in warehouses and on construction sites—they are mainly worn by workers operating heavy equipment in hazardous work zones—and were only recently applied to a museum context. The tags were first adopted by Florence’s Duomo, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, two weeks ago. Magazzino has been monitoring the reopening of Italian cultural destinations closely and has been in contact with management at the Duomo—the cathedral reported positive feedback to Magazzino over the implementation of the devices.

Vittorio Calabrese, director of Magazzino, and its cofounders Giorgio Spanu and Nancy Olnick, believe that the EGOpro Active Tags could potentially be the solution they were looking for when debating how to keep staff and museumgoers safe and have been working with AME engineers to customize it to the institution’s needs. “We are proud to be the first US institution to implement this technology,” Calabrese told Artforum. “After months of social distancing, we want our staff and visitors to be comfortable in our space. Ensuring that visitors can still have an intimate and joyful experience and directly engage with the works of art and architecture is paramount to Magazzino.”

Calabrese said that the museum ultimately embraced the technology because it is simple to use and does not require guests to download apps or use their credentials to sign in to a program. He emphasized that Magazzino respects its visitors’ privacy and has no interest in collecting personal data or tracing technology—it is still considering whether temperature checks would be an appropriate safety measure to enforce. The promise of the devices has also prompted a number of museum leaders from across New York as well as from other states, including Florida, to call Calabrese to discuss the EGOpro Active Tags.  

The devices will be handed out to visitors, who will be required to sign up for a timed entry slot beforehand, at an outdoor pre-check station and will be attached to lanyards so people can wear them around their necks. For those showing up with a group of family members or friends, the staff will be able to set up the devices so that they don’t give off proximity alerts when near members of the same party. They will be able to maintain a charge for as long as twelve hours and will be sanitized after each use. Calabrese said that the museum will also most likely require guests to wear masks and will create sanitization stations.

Since the museum offers free admission, it has not suffered a major revenue loss from its temporary closure, however Calabrese said that it maintains a donation box for RxArt and donates ticket revenue from special events to the organization. In the past, Magazzino has been able to raise around $20,000 for the nonprofit over the course of a year, which has helped fund a number of projects, including the 2019 installation of a Keith Haring wall decal, realized in partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation, at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem. The museum hopes to set a reopening date in the second half of July and is working closely with officials at the village, county, and regional levels on the procedural changes that will be enacted at Magazzino.

Once it reopens, the museum will admit between six and ten visitors in half-hour increments, which means the maximum number of visitors will be as low as one hundred people per day. The cap means that the institution will have an estimated 60 percent reduction in the number of people it usually welcomes. In addition to the EGOpro Active Tags, which the museum staff will begin testing out next week, returning and new visitors can expect to see the rehang of the museum’s permanent “Arte Povera” exhibition, which was completed on March 12, the same day that the museum closed to the public to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. A special exhibition of work by Mel Bochner, Alighiero Boetti, and Lucio Fontana, curated by Bochner in collaboration with Magazzino, which was scheduled for June, is now slated to open sometime in the fall. More announcements about future programming and the museum’s reopening timeline will be made in the coming weeks.

Installation view of “Arte Povera.” Photo: Alexa Hoyer.