This Dutch Museum Is the World’s First to Open Its Storage to the Public, Putting Its Entire 151,000-Piece Collection on View

This Dutch Museum Is the World’s First to Open Its Storage to the Public, Putting Its Entire 151,000-Piece Collection on View

Monitoring Desk

Most museums can show only 10 percent of their holdings at a time, and changes to what is on display can take years to implement. But the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam has found a novel solution: unlocking its storage vaults for the public. After nearly 20 years of planning, the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen will open this Saturday, November 6, in the Dutch city.

The purpose-built depot, which has a new, permanent artwork by Pipilotti Rist projected onto its side, is the first of its kind and art lovers will have access to the museum’s full 151,000-piece collection—including works by the likes of Leonora Carrington and Salvador Dalì that usually remain off view.

“It’s incredible,” says the museum’s director, Sjarel Ex. “We have been working on our plan for the depot since 2004 and it has been through many stages.”Pipilotti Rist, Wasting Life On You, projected on the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode.

Pipilotti Rist, Wasting Life On You, projected on the Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode.

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen itself is closed for an extensive overhaul that is expected to be completed in 2028. The idea for the public storage concept came after the museum’s previous storage flooded repeatedly, demanding a new and permanent solution. While items from the collection were temporarily housed off-site, the benefits of building an adjoining facility within the Museumpark, an urban park in the center of Rotterdam, became clear. Then came the idea of opening it up for full access to the collection, which is publicly owned.Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo Iris van den Broek

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Iris van den Broek.

Ex told Artnet News that over the years it became clear how valuable a public-facing storage might be. “I saw this enlightenment in groups and individuals when I showed them items in the depot of the museum,” he said. “It was an experience that I could never forget.”

The 167,000-square-foot building was designed by the local architectural firm MVRDV, and is intended to facilitate spending time with artworks, as well as educate the public about the care for and restoration of art. The works are hung in pull-out storage shelves which visitors can use to view the works at close quarters. There are also screening booths to view their digitized film library, and space which is can be rented by private collections.Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo Iris van den Broek

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Iris van den Broek.

The storage is not curated, which allows art lovers to stumble across little-known or untrendy works and draw their own conclusions about their value. Ex believes this will not only “democratize” the collection, but also help those working at the museum get to know the works better.

“An important saying to me is out of sight, out of heart, and out of heart, out of sight,” the director said. “What happens when you do not look at things anymore, when you do not face them… This is the moment artworks, even in a museum depot, can sink into oblivion.”

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