Something special is taking shape in Rotterdam. Ever since the first plans were made public, the international museum world has been eagerly observing the development of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, the first museum depot in the world to be accessible to the public. In June, an article by Sandra Kisters, Head of Collection and Research at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, will appear in the thematic issue ‘Museum Collection Storage’ of ICOM’s magazine Museum International. She looks ahead with us.
Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode
A real public building for the first time
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is a forerunner, but it is acting in the spirit of the times. The call for the democratisation of museums and collections is being heard everywhere. Why is it that sometimes as much as 95% of a collection reposes behind lock and key? We’ve already seen open ‘viewing depositories’ at the Museum aan de Stroom/MAS in Antwerp and at Louvre Lens. Some (natural history) museums also offer guided tours of their depots. But that is something fundamentally different from a real public building, without spotlights on the works and with art installations dismantled to their individual components. Everything will be displayed in Rotterdam in the same way it would be stored behind closed doors.
Such an open depot is a lot more expensive than regular climate-controlled storage. It will require considerably more space. First and foremost, so that the public can move safely among the art, but also for the many other facilities that make this building a day out: presentation and study rooms, showrooms for private collections, and a restaurant with a rooftop forest. Generating our own income is therefore a must. In addition to ticket sales, this must be raised by renting out storage space to private and corporate collections. International colleagues frequently ask the museum about this model.
Focus on practice
Then: how can the museum engender enthusiasm among the public about this – after all quite specialised – aspect of the museum business? Right at the start of this huge project, the museum was regularly asked whether an open depot would be appealing enough for the average museum visitor. And does it also have something to offer repeat visitors? It certainly does, according to Kisters. By constantly telling new stories, the museum wants to continue to surprise people. Both galleries will feature changing presentations based on the museum’s core values of conservation, restoration and collection policy. Until the museum reopens, a presentation of highlights will be installed in the large gallery on the fifth floor.
This emphasis on museum practice is also reflected in the educational programmes. These will soon be aimed at, among others, intermediate vocational and vocational students. A depot is a unique place to train a new generation of museum staff, for example, in the field of collection management and conservation.
Want to know more?
On 28 May 2021 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Stichting Behoud Moderne Kunst (SBMK), presented an international online symposium on publicly accessible depots: Opening Up! Collection Centre Strategies.
Also keep an eye on the June issue (Vol. 73, No. 289-290) of Museum International and stay informed about international developments in the field of open depositories and the vanguard position that the Netherlands occupies within it.