Rotterdam’s Boijmans collection reveals all . . .

The Rotterdam Depot is not only showing how the collection is cared for, but also the test stage of a highlights presentation. Collection favourites such as Brueghel and Basquiat can now be inspected from all angles thanks to glass easels by architect and designer Lina Bo Bardi.

This week, a test presentation was set up in the Depot with highlights from the museum’s collection. Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen has been designed as a work building and visitors can simply follow how a presentation is put together. The result, ‘Highlights from the Museum’s collection: test stage’ shows the front and backsides of masterpieces and is on view from today. This is a foretaste of a much larger presentation later this year. Visitors can follow the lifespan of favourite collection items and are invited to think about what they would choose as their own top work. The test presentation features fourteen paintings, including works by Bosch, Brueghel, Rembrandt, Kandinksy, Munch, Van Gogh, Van Dongen and Basquiat, and can be seen until 14th August on the third floor of the depot.

These highlights were always on show in the gallery as public favourites – if one of them wasn’t on display, we could expect complaints. With this presentation, the visitor can look further than the traditional museum presentation, just as the depot also breaks with tradition. The depot is a work building and shows that the life of works of art is never static but rather fluid. Sjarel Ex, Director Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 

Test presentation: the ‘glass easels’ of Lina Bo Bardi

In the test presentation, the Boijmans team is working for the first time with ‘glass easels’, a presentation form inspired by a design by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi (Rome 1914 – São Paulo 1992). She thought up the glass easels for the new building of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo (1968). For her, it was a means of stripping paintings of their ‘sacred’ character. They are hand-made objects that also have a rear side. The paintings do not hang on the wall, but are positioned on stands in free space. Thanks to the transparent glass, you can also view the backs. These provide information about the material, the technique and the origins of the paintings.

With this set-up we show how closely Bo Bardi’s revolutionary presentation method reflects the main aims of the depot: provide insight into the activities of the museum and display the collection items as objects. It is also an experiment to ask ourselves with the public what these highlights are and exactly why. There is, after all, so much to choose from. Peter van der Coelen, curator, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Backs of paintings

The backs say a lot about how a painting is made. First you can see whether it is painted on a panel (wood) or on canvas (linen). The back also generally says something about the restoration of a painting. Sometimes small repairs are visible or it transpires that a thin panel has been strengthened with slats. A painting on linen can be ‘re-lined’ (new canvas has been stuck to the back). On virtually every back you also find inscriptions, numbers, labels or seals of red wax. These are generally identifying marks of previous owners of the painting. Finally, the back often has quite a few stickers from other museums. In this way, visitors discover particulars from the ‘life’ of a famous work of art. On the back of ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Bruegel, for example, you see a large white stamp of a previous owner: Elisabetta Farnese (1692-1766), queen of Spain. A letter is also stuck to the back from D.G. van Beuningen, who later came into possession of the painting. In the letter he explains that during the war the work was buried on his estate, packed in a zinc crate.

The depot is not a museum

With the opening of the depot, a new concept became reality: every museum has a depot, but only Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is accessible to the public. Here the works of art can be seen as individual components of an enormous collection. The depot is a work building: art is cleaned, conserved, restored, packed, unpacked, transported and much more. The collection is public property and the museum employees work for and with the public. The depot shows how the art can be preserved for the future.

8th April 2022