Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen Innovates Museum Model in World First; Displays Entire Collection by Size and Climatic Requirements

  • November 03, 2021 18:18

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Rotterdam’s Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen has innovated how museum collections can be shown. Photograph: Boijmans museum
Gallery in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Foto: Iris van den Broek

With Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, a new all-access art museum and system of collection management debuts. The King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, will open the Depot this week, with all 151,000 collection items—from Vincent van Gogh paintings to a Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room—on public display in a greenery-topped round repository next to the Boijmans museum’s original 1930s building in Rotterdam.

The idea of ​​a new building to safeguard the art collection was first whispered about in 2004. After the first pile was sunk in March 2017, now, 4.5 years later, the building is completed: Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in the Museum Park in Rotterdam will be opened by His Majesty the King on Friday November 5, with a public opening on November 6.

Pipilotti Rist at Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode.

When the cellars under the museum became unsuitable for art storage due to flooding - it proved to be an opportunity for the city. With the arrival of the art depot - designed by MVRDV - the internationally renowned Boijmans Van Beuningen art collection and the care for these 151,000 objects will be made transparent under one roof, next to the museum building that is undergoing renovation.

Museums worldwide generally display an average of six to ten percent of the collection - the remaining ninety percent, and the work associated with conservation is hidden and sequestered. The depot breaks with this tradition of hiding and makes all of these invisible works of art visible; the model echoes changing views on collection management and is showcased in a pioneering building. Never before has accessible museum storage on this scale been combined with a view behind the scenes for the general public. 

Sandra Kisters - Head of Collection and Research Boijmans Van Beuningen, said: “In the depot, the visitor is invited to delve into what collecting is in various ways and to actively relate to the collection and to share their own knowledge about collecting (art) objects with the museum. Selecting and distinguishing is a human process, motivated by emotion and guided by knowledge.”
Gallery in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Iris van den Broek
The Boijmans Van Beuningen collection is the only one in the Netherlands that introduces the visitor to seven centuries of (Western) art history of the highest level, spanning from 1400 to the present. The museum offers an international perspective and makes connections between contemporary art and design, linking old masters, design, and prints and drawings. Not only is the breadth and composition of the collection unique in the Netherlands, the quality of individual works is also high. Rotterdam's entrepreneurship and private initiative play a leading role in the 172-year history of the museum. Harbor barons of yesteryear underlined their international orientation and view of the world by collecting high-quality art. Together with small collectors and the staff of the museum, they brought together an extensive, international art collection in which not only almost all the great masters are represented with important pieces, but also the most beautiful works by lesser-known artists. No museum in the Netherlands has a collection with such an international character and extends over so many centuries.
The world-famous art collection now contains more than 151,000 objects, including more than 63,000 paintings, photographs, films, pre-industrial and design objects, contemporary art installations, sculptures and 88,000 prints and drawings. With its diversity of focal points and qualities over the centuries, the collection shows itself like a map.
Gallery in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode

Works of art in the new depot are stored, organised and displayed on the basis of their size and climatic requirements, rather than on the basis of art movement, era or maker. There are five different climate zones, suitable for different materials such as metal, plastic, paper, black and white and color photography. The works of art are arranged as efficiently as possible, just like in a closed depot. Collection objects are packed, hanging from a rack or displayed on shelves in one of the fourteen storage compartments, or exhibited in one of the thirteen large floating glass display cases in the atrium. Collections that are usually less accessible, such as prints, drawings and photos from the relevant depots, can be studied on request. Some sub-collections, such as the film and video collections, have been completely digitised for conservation reasons but also to allow more access for the public to view them in a film room and two small booths. The accessibility is therefore not only interesting for the regular public, but also facilitates the conduct of art historical research by third parties and the development of new educational programmes.
Gallery in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen. Foto: Iris van den Broek
In addition to housing the collection safely, Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen has been designed as a work building, where the collection and research department works on registration, loan traffic, conservation, restoration, and facilitates and conducts research. 
The video installation 'Het leven verspillen aan jou' by artist Pipilotti Rist can be experienced daily after sunset in the public space between Depot and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. The depot entrance with a public and group passageways, information point, mezzanine with transparent lockers and a shop was designed by artist John Körmeling. During the route through the depot, people come into contact with the art collection in various ways. The eye-catcher of the MVRDV design is the atrium with the intersecting stairs and the thirteen large glass showcases containing collection pieces. These showcases, designed in collaboration with artist Marieke van Diemen, are furnished with art, fashion and design, such as work by Maurizio Cattelan, Iris van Herpen, Auguste Rodin, Carolein Smit, Carel Fabritius, Suzan Drummen, Gijs Frieling and Job Wouters, and Sarkis. The atrium stairways criss-cross to six floors of restoration studios, a film room, two small film booths, two study rooms and two gallery spaces for exhibitions. Most of the space is taken up by the twenty depot compartments, fourteen of which are for the museum's own art storage and six to lease: five private depots and a joint depot that can be hired per m2.
In the restoration studios, visitors can look from behind glass at specialists restoring, for example, Van Gogh's ‘Poplars near Nuenen' or Kusama's 'Infinity Mirror Room - Phalli's Field (Floor Show)', whilst being informed through an interactive educational layer. The presentation rooms contain exhibitions that focus on works of art as a material object rather than on art-historical developments and ideas. In the depot compartments of the museum visitors see (via the window, an app and in-depth information available outside depot compartments or inside the depot compartments with a guide) the workings of art storage.
Marlene Dumas, Dead Man, 1988. Photo: Peter Cox Eindhoven. Rabobank Collection at Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen.

In addition to its role as the museum's engine room, the depot will also have a commercial function. Part of the building is leased as storage space for art from private collectors and for corporate collections such as KPN and Rabobank, or from collectors such as the Lakeside Capital Collection by Ali Keles. The tenants of these compartment can in turn open their depots to the public. Tenants within the depot are offered the same service and professionalism as the museum collection. The depot also contains a collection compartment where a few square metres, individual racks or shelves can be leased. The sixth floor, accessible via an express lift, is located at a height of approximately 35 metres and allows breathtaking views over the city. Here visitors will find restaurant Renilde with a roof terrace and the event space for hire Coert. The restaurant and event space are named after the Boijmans curator (Renilde Hammacher) from the 1960s and 1970s and the Boijmans director (Coert Ebbinge Wubbe) of that time. A depot store with products related to the depot is also part of the experience. The depot store was designed by John Körmeling.

Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, photo: Ossip van Duivenbode
MVRDV's ambition was to design a public depot that is as inviting as possible, making visitors feel welcome. An accessible building with five climate zones that transparently shows how the collection is maintained, while at the same time leaving the entrance hall of the Museum Park intact as much as possible, and engaging with it in new ways. A round shape was chosen so that the depot is equally inviting on all sides. This building has no back. The depot owes its tucked shape to its relatively small footprint (40 metres). As a result, the building projects upwards and has an overhang of 10 meters to accommodate the entire programme of tasks and functions. The diameter of the roof is 60 meters. The reflective facade, consisting of 6,609 m2 of glass divided over 1,664 panels, ensures that the building visually blends into its surroundings. Every day – depending on weather conditions – the depot looks different, like in a living painting. The birches, grasses and pines placed on the award-winning roof help to retain water, promote biodiversity and reduce heat stress in the city. The trees for this project were prepared for their new home in a nursery for three years. Their roots are interconnected, allowing them to withstand stormy weather even at a height of 35 meters.

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