A Dutch Museum Will Display All 150,000 Objects in Its Collections

The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s unique storage facility is slated to open in fall 2021

A large building shaped like a sphere with a flat top, with mirrors all around the building's surface that reflect the blue sky and white clouds
The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam will open its depot next year, making 151,000 artworks that would otherwise be in storage accessible to the public. Ossip van Duivenbode / Courtesty of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Most museums display just a fraction of the works in their collections. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, places around 4 percent of the more than two million objects in its collections on view at any given time. But come next year, the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, will buck this trend by unveiling the world’s first publicly accessible art warehouse.

Construction of the facility, known as the Boijmans Depot, wrapped last week, reports Matt Hickman for the Architect’s Newspaper. Located on the grounds of an urban park near Rotterdam’s city center, the bowl-shaped, mirrored building boasts a rooftop garden filled with birch trees.

Before welcoming visitors to this idiosyncratic, ultra-modern facility, the museum must transfer more than 151,000 works in its collections to the new space. Officials expect the warehouse to open its doors in fall 2021, per a statement.

As Mike Corder writes for the Associated Press, the works of art and artifacts on view in galleries and museums around the world represent just “the visible tip of a huge art iceberg.”

Speaking with the AP, Boijmans Co-Director Sjarel Ex adds, “You mount about 6 percent of the collection—it could be 10—but then you have 90 percent in storage. What is the public responsibility to not show 90 percent?”

As Nina Siegal reported for the New York Times last year, a 2013 flood in the museum’s basement spurred Ex to push for a new and improved storage facility. With the Boijmans closed for an extended renovation, Ex and his peers decided to spring for a “radical” new design for an art storage warehouse.

A gleaming white interior, with a network of curved stairwells, lots of glass, and artwork hanging in long rows--a red Calder sculpture appears at the end of the long white hallway, among many other works
Artist rendering of the interior of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam Courtesy of MVRDV

The building, constructed at a cost of around $95 million, stands 130 feet tall. A total of 1,664 mirrored panels cover the depot’s curved surface and reflect the surrounding city landscape—a choice Ex and others say is intentional and symbolic, as the museum’s mission is about “[b]ringing the outside in,” he told the Times last year.

Depot Boijmans sits next door to the main museum building, which dates to the 1930s, reports Andrew Dickson for the Guardian. Inside the depot, artwork will be arranged in a modern “open storage” concept, with rows upon rows of art accessible via a network of minimalist glass stairwells.

“This is a working building in which the most important consideration is what the building can do: to look after our collection while still being open to the public,” say co-directors Ex and Ina Klaassen in the statement, per a translation by the Architect’s Newspaper. “Next year the entire collection of Boijmans Van Beuningen will once again be visible on one spot for the first time since 1935. We are convinced that making the collection accessible shows how much we care and how well we take care of it.”

The directors add, “This is something that the inhabitants of Rotterdam will be proud of; something that they want to see with their own eyes, because they partly own this enormous artistic treasure.”

Inside the storage facility, viewers will be able to peruse rows of Old Master paintings and modern sculptures. The museum’s collections include works by early Dutch masters such as Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder, as well as contemporary works by the likes of Yayoi Kusama and Olafur Eliasson.

Ex tells the Associated Press that he hopes the new storage facility will ensure that thousands of works in the museum’s holdings are not forgotten.

“We know that this collection is cherished and that it’s important and that depots are very worthwhile, obviously,” he says. “But when you cannot look at it, you always have the kind of risk that it’s out of sight, out of mind.”

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