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Netherlands Museum Opens Its Secrets to the Public

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All the paintings and other works of art you find at museums around the world represent just a small percentage of their collections. Most of what they have is, at any given time, stored away, out of the public eye.

One art museum in the Netherlands is trying to change that.

Sjarel Ex is director of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Recently, he showed the museum's new depot, or storage area, to The Associated Press (AP) and other media.

The building is expected to hold 151,000 artworks when it opens to the public next year. Almost all these works have yet to be made available and shown to the public at any given time.

Ex told reporters, "You mount about 6% of the collection…but then you have 90% in storage. What is the public responsibility to not show 90%?"

He added that having so much of a collection in storage means that it can be forgotten: "…when you cannot look at it, you always have the kind of risk that it's out of sight, out of mind," he said.

Why place a storage builder in the center of the city?

The project was partly driven by a problem. The old storage space in the basement of the museum was in danger of flooding. That could put the valuable artwork at risk.

The new depot is near the center of Rotterdam's Museum Park, and close to the main museum building. The 39.5-meter-tall depot is covered with 1,664 shiny mirrors. They reflect the surrounding grounds and the city's tall buildings.

Rotterdam is known as Manhattan on the Maas because of its high-rise buildings and the river that runs through it. The island of Manhattan is the heart of New York City.

The mirrors have special meaning to Rotterdam residents. Local people and organizations paid for many of them at a cost of about $1,165 each. Their donations helped to pay for the $105 million project.

The top of the building is the new home for 75 birch trees. The trees were grown at ground level so that their roots could interconnect to make them stronger.

Inside the new depot, visitors will find five different climates, each one designed to protect different kinds of art. Materials such as glass, prints and paintings by the famous Dutch Masters will be kept in areas meant for them.

Architect Winy Maas speaks to reporters on the roof of the new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Thursday Sept. 24, 2020.
Architect Winy Maas speaks to reporters on the roof of the new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands, Thursday Sept. 24, 2020.

Architect Winy Maas designed the depot. He said museum officials did not want a depot that looked like a high-security building on the edge of the city. Instead, it is in the middle of green open space, and surrounded by other museums, in the center of the city.

Maas designed the building to be round and wider on top than on the bottom. He said he wanted to reduce the space it takes up — its footprint.

The depot, however, will be a working environment. The inside is very simple. Visitors may see workers preparing artworks for shipping and conservators working to repair old paintings. The depot will also have space for members of the public who want to store their art.

The openness of the depot seems to be a security worry, but Ex said the art is safe. "You can see you have cameras. You have very strong glass doors. You have hidden secrets. And we feel comfortable," he said.

I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

Mike Corder reported this story from The Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

Words in This Story

museum – n. a building in which objects of artistic, cultural or scientific interest are stored

mount – v. to organize or set up

basement n. the bottom or ground floor of a building

mirror – n. a piece of glass that produces images of other objects

reflect – v. to show an image on a surface that bounces light in the opposite direction

architect – n. a person who designs buildings

conservator – n. a person responsible for the repair and protection of works of art or other things of cultural interest

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