Friday, November 27, 2015

Showing off

How often do you hear art museums explaining (or, on odd occasions, complaining) that they can only show a tiny proportion of their collections? Almost as often as they promise to make the works in store accessible to the public by turning some galleries into what they call ‘open-store’. But yes, occasionally it happens. In the eighties you couldn’t go into a public art museum without seeing hundreds of paintings double, triple and even quadruple hung, but the fever has passed. The Dowse pulled out a few cabinets last year and rather than displaying objects in them left them just as they were in storage. People liked it. OK you couldn’t see the objects 360 degrees but you got the idea and it was 100 percent better than not seeing them at all. Te Papa has opened its physical storerooms for a few tours but their promised permanent open store has never eventuated.

Today we saw the most cynical version of open storage at the new Broad Museum in LA. After the promise of the architects' over-heated metaphor for the Broad of 'the veil and the vault', we were expecting something special in the way of access to the collections. What we got were a couple of windows opening onto the art store. 'Look,' they seemed to be saying, 'here's all the stuff we have that you can't see.' Tiers of racks, a couple of paintings on view and tantalising glimpses of the staff going about their business. Open storage, so near and yet so far away.