Turning Museums Inside-Out with Beautiful Visible Storage - Atlas Obscura
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Turning Museums Inside-Out with Beautiful Visible Storage

article-imageVisible storage at the Luce Foundation Center for American Art (photograph by Cliff/Flickr)

In the world’s largest museums, only a small fraction of their collections are ever placed on display. This makes the storage capacity and conditions of museums incredibly important.

Jennifer Jones, chair and curator within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, wrote a few years ago about the difficulties museums face when considering storage and how it should work. As time elapses, museum staff must contend with an increase in collections, as well as technologies and filing systems that go out of date.

While museums are chiefly concerned with the health and condition of their collections, they are also keenly aware of the need to compete with outside influences to keep patrons heading in through their doors. Whether it is other museum options in major metropolitan areas, the need to attract brand new visitors, or tech projects like Google Art, museums find themselves constantly on the lookout for new acquisitions, exhibit redesigns, and inventive ways to attract visitors.

These conditions have helped produced the ever-popular trend of “visible storage,” a new way museums across the world are preserving their collections in beautiful, yet safe, environments that offer museum-goers a window into the daily operations behind-the-scenes, all the while maintaining tight conservation control over storage systems and collections.

One of these institutions is the Brooklyn Museum, where Luce Center for American Art visible storage enables visitors to view approximately 2,000 items from the museum’s storage facility. This 5,000 square-foot space enables visitors to view a rotating collection of storage items that would normally be packed away in the dark. At any one time, 600 paintings from the museum’s holdings are rotated in and out on rolling racks situated behind glass walls, with numerous other artifacts positions in cases around the gallery.

Kevin Stayton, chief curator at the Brooklyn Museum, explained: “Since the installation was introduced in 2004, [visitation] numbers are up and have consistently risen.” According to Stayton, visitors have described visible storage as providing a “treasure box feeling,” enabling them to find hidden objects and make connections with surrounding displays without much guidance. But the Brooklyn Museum is just one of a growing number of museums around the world that are developing beautiful, visually-stimulating visible storage facilities, allowing museum goers to see more than ever before.

Below is a photo collection of just a few of the world’s most beautiful visual museum storage spaces:

Luce Foundation Center for American Art
Washington, DC 

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photograph by Cliff/Flickr

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photograph by Cliff/Flickr

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photograph by Cliff/Flickr

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photograph by Cliff/Flickr

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photograph by Cliff/Flickr

Victoria & Albert Museum
London, England

article-imagephotograph by Philafrenzy/Wikimedia

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photograph by Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia

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photograph by UK_FGR/Wikimedia

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photograph by Sarah Stierch

Museum Aan de Stroom
Antwerp, Belgium

article-imagephotograph by Filip Dujardin, courtesy MAS

article-imagephotograph by Filip Dujardin, courtesy MAS

article-imagephotograph by Filip Dujardin, courtesy MAS

Larco Museum
Lima, Peru

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photograph by Lyndsay Ruell/Wikimedia

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photograph by Marcelo Druck/Flickr

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photograph by Robert Nunn/Flickr

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photograph by Raban Haaijk/Flickr

Brooklyn Museum
Brooklyn, New York

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photograph courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

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photograph courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

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photograph courtesy of Brooklyn Museum

The Warehouse, National Railway Museum  
York, England

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photograph by Ben Salter/Wikimedia

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photograph by David Jones/Flickr

article-imagephotograph by Ben Salter/Wikimedia

Rietberg Museum
Zurich, Switzerland

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photograph by Martin Sauter/Wikimedia

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photograph by Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia

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photograph by Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia

Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Birmingham, Alabama

article-imagephotograph by Roger Smith/Flickr

article-imagephotograph by Roger Smith/Flickr


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