Search Museum Next

World’s first publicly accessible art museum storage facility opens to public

The Depot Boijmans is clad in 1,664 mirrors and has 127 trees planted on its roof

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen will open its doors to the public this weekend allowing visitors to explore the museum collection of 151,000 objects and see parts of it being conserved.

Located next to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which is currently undergoing a major renovation, in Museumpark in Rotterdam, The Depot houses these objects in fourteen storage compartments with five different climates over six floors.

Alongside the objects, all the activities that go into preserving and managing a collection are on open view in the building with exciting snippets of the collection displayed around the facility.

Working building

In addition to housing the collection safely, Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen was designed as a working building, where the collection and research department works on registration, loan traffic, conservation, restoration and facilitates and conducts research.

The museum says it is the epitome of the changing vision of collection management and a world first. Never before has accessible museum storage on this scale been combined with a view behind the scenes for the general public.

Here, MuseumNext talks to Head of Collections and Research, Sandra Kisters about the new facility, the dilemma around its creation and what it now offers in terms of the management of the collections and the visitor experience.

Depot Boijmans Head of Collections and Research, Sandra Kisters

In what ways will the Depot Boijmans experience differ from a normal visit to a museum?

A visit to the Depot is a visit to the engine room of the museum. The work we usually do behind the scenes, where the artworks are stored and taken care for, documented, restored, researched or prepared for loan traffic. The museum is the place where art is being interpreted, where we organise exhibitions from an art historical perspective, whilst the Depot shows the visitor what taking care of a valuable art collection means.

What can the visitor expect to see and how will their journey be oriented?

The atrium offers visitors their first contact with the collections in a dramatic way

Visitors who enter the depot will immediately see the backstage of the museum through large glass windows, which make the packaging area visible. When they enter the atrium, they will see a curated display of the collection in 13 glass display cases designed by Marieke van Diemen together with MVRDV that are hanging in the atrium.

From the atrium they can look inside our storerooms, where the collection is organised on material, size and scale. A special Depot app will provide information about the objects from the angle of collection care – technique, materials, provenance, etc.

Visitors can also take a guided tour into the storerooms. These tours also visit the climate rooms, the wood workshop or the photo studio, or other workspaces in the building.

Every floor has touchscreens with information about the storerooms, on the third and fourth floor two galleries will present projects about collecting or conservation and research projects. In addition, there are four restoration studios, two film cabins and a film room, and some of the private collectors renting spaces will open up their storerooms as well.

Why was it decided to create a publicly accessible museum store and what benefits will this have for the city, museum staff and visitors?

The idea came from director Sjarel Ex, but it could be realised through a large donation of Stichting de Verre Bergen. Making a collection accessible to the public benefits the visitors in feeling like the co-owners of this public collection.

For the city it is both an architectural landmark, as a new museum typology, attracting our existing, but also a new public interested in collection care and collecting.

We hope to collaborate with schools on many different levels for example MBO schools, who teach practical skills and crafts. For the staff it is wonderful to have the entire collections – previously dispersed between five different locations, at one place, with excellent climate and facilities. We also look forward to opening a dialogue with our public.

What have been the challenges and how have these been overcome?

The man” by Maurizio Cattelan in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Aad Hoogendoorn

There were many first discussions about the necessity of the new depot, about the location next to the museum, the costs, and about how to make it public without interfering with collection management standards and vice versa.

It would take too long to explain how they all were overcome, but the main solution was dialogue: with the municipality, with the inhabitants of Rotterdam and with our own team and external advisers. Most of all, our love of the collection, and a strong belief in the concept of opening up our collection to the public has made it possible to overcome difficulties.

Is the Depot Boijmans the future for museum stores and if so, what have you learnt about the process of opening up the collection?

It certainly is a new typology. Yet, it also fits in a development in the last few decades, of museums wanting to show more of what is hidden in the storerooms. The model of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is not one that every museum will want or be able to follow.

A public depot means more m2s for public access and higher costs. Especially if the location is the city centre and not the outskirts of the city. Opening up an art collection in the way we do with Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is all about transparency, of our working process, the actual work being done in the building, of the storerooms that are visible, etc.

We will have to see how the visitors will experience this building, but we look forward to discovering the collection together with them.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

Subscribe to the latest museum thinking

Fresh ideas from museums around the globe in your inbox each week