CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide


Deep Storage or Open Depot: Access to the ‘Hidden’ Collections

Almost every museum in the world has more objects in its collections than it can permanently display. They are usually kept in storage with only limited public access. CODART TWINTIG will look into recent approaches to the problems posed by ever-expanding collections, lack of space, shrinking funds, and increasing demand for public access.

There is a widespread belief that museums are guilty of “hiding treasures.” However, the reasons for placing artworks in storage are rarely mentioned, let alone discussed: apart from the sheer number of objects, relative to the limited gallery space, artworks may be too large or heavy, they may be out of step with the collection in terms of quality, origin, or technique; or problems of fragility or poor condition may prevent their permanent or even temporary display. Nowadays, museums tend to be more cautious in their acquisitions, trying to ensure that they only acquire objects that fulfill their collecting criteria. Nonetheless, they often struggle with legacies from the past, consisting of purchases, bequests, and gifts that may fall in one or more of the categories mentioned above.

How do museums deal with these challenges? The most radical solution is deaccessioning, practiced in the US but prohibited for many public collections in Europe and elsewhere. Traditionally, larger museums had study galleries in their buildings, but many of these have been given up – although the National Gallery in London recently reinstated its study gallery. “Outposts” have been created, such as the Louvre Lens, which may be dedicated to particular areas of the collection, displaying large numbers of objects on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. Storage areas, though usually open to scholars by appointment, tend to be inaccessible to the public.

Recently some institutions have adopted a different approach, introducing a system of “open storage” such as the Schaulager in Basel. The “Public Art Depot” of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (to open in late 2018) will take this one step further, making the museum’s stored collection accessible to the public in its entirety as well as renting out space and offering collection services to private individuals. Is this a model for the future?

Some museums (such as Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Mauritshuis in The Hague have mounted temporary exhibitions of objects that are normally kept in storage, or loan objects to other public institutions on a long-term basis, thereby providing access to objects that would otherwise be stored. Other modes of outreach include the digitization and online cataloguing of stored objects, as well as virtual and traveling exhibitions.

CODART TWINTIG will look at the past and present of storage as well as debating models for the future. The discussions will address the needs of artworks and people, while taking into account factors of conservation, access, and viability.