Rotterdam’s new museum lets you see 150,000 artworks in one place


Visitors look at compartments with pieces of art at the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen, designed by MVRDV in Rotterdam on June 1, 2021. - In the coming period, 151,000 art objects will be transferred from external depots to the new depot. On May 26, 2020 the museum closed for several years due to a major renovation, expected to be in 2026. Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is the first art storage facility in the world that offers access to a museum's complete collection. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by Marco de Swart / ANP / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by MARCO DE SWART/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s more like a giant art warehouse than a gallery (Picture: Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

After the security guard liberates a biometric lock, myself and 12 others in protective gowns enter a vast white room lined with countless supple storage units.

Along each hang paintings – 2,346 in all, including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Rubens.

Such a peculiar experience typifies Rotterdam’s new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen (BvB), in the Netherlands’ ever innovative second city.

Opened in November, it supports a namesake adjacent museum that’s currently closed for renovation.

Having previously used private warehouses, the BvB has now collated its entire 151,000-strong collection in the Depot, and rendered the bulk publicly accessible – a museum first.


ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 24: General exterior view of Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen on September 24, 2020 in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is the first art storage in the world that will be open to the public. The mirroring building in the Museumpark in Rotterdam was designed by MVRDV and this weekend 7.500 visitors will be allowed to enter the project during its Silver Opening. (Photo by Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

The museum is housed inside this futuristic reflective building (Picture: Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images)


Rotterdam, The Netherlands-June 2021; View of the fa?ade with reflection in mirrors of The Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen; first art storage facility in the world; Shutterstock ID 2133132767; dept: -; Name: -; job: -; page/date: -

It looks like a spaceship (Picture: Shutterstock / 365 Focus Photography)

The numbers are persuasive. Had you visited the museum when it was open last and scrutinised every single work on display, you’d still have seen only a fraction of the BvB’s collection.

At the Depot, only photographs and private collections are now off limits due to their sensitivity to light.

Within Rotterdam’s Museumpark, the Depot occupies a 40ft-high circular building clad in reflective glass panels.

From afar, it resembles a spaceship, adding to Rotterdam’s array of bold architecture, the design by local firm MVRDV.


Visitors look at compartments with pieces of art at the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen, designed by MVRDV in Rotterdam on June 1, 2021. - In the coming period, 151,000 art objects will be transferred from external depots to the new depot. On May 26, 2020 the museum closed for several years due to a major renovation, expected to be in 2026. Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen is the first art storage facility in the world that offers access to a museum's complete collection. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by Marco de Swart / ANP / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION (Photo by MARCO DE SWART/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Inside you can visit storage rooms filled with priceless artworks (Picture: Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Inside, the Depot contains 14 thermo-regulated ‘compartments’ (storage rooms) divided by format (‘metals’ – ‘small inorganic materials’). Nine can be entered and to do so, you must sign up for 30-minute tours and don white gowns.

On my tour, which visits the ‘hanging objects’ (paintings) compartment, I don’t know where to look first.

Beautiful watercolours catch my eye down narrow storage alleys – frustratingly, as the works are just too precious, you can’t walk down to see canvases close up.

Yet I’m also enthralled by the sense of bounty, of being behind the scenes. ‘We’re in a warehouse, not a museum,’ reminds our guide Bianca. ‘Here, all works are treated the same – equally worth saving and equally worth showing.’

Besides joining tours, visitors can roam the Depot’s atrium. I slowly scale all seven floors via lifts and zigzagging staircases.


Visitors have to wear white gowns like these (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)


Boijmans Van Beuningen depot. Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode. Press pic

It’s like a huge glass warehouse inside (Picture: Ossip van Duivenbode)

Those same nine compartments can all be peered into through large windows, with the Depot’s excellent app offering details about every visible item.

Cataloguers work in one. Amid the multi-level shelves in another, a Philippe Starck chair randomly tops a Philips TV to save space.

On the third storey, windows let me observe restoration studios. In one, lab-coated experts are carefully preserving a Van Gogh. No less enjoyable is a creamy pumpkin soup at top-floor restaurant Renilde.

The canteen-style tables neighbour a sprawling garden terrace where young birch trees frame city views.

Wandering back downstairs, although there’s a hubbub, the Depot never seems overcrowded (ahem, Tate Modern!)

That was an art experience, I conclude afterwards. I didn’t goggle at a seminal work, nor did I discover an artist or movement.

Instead, the main exhibit was the eye-catching Depot itself – its stunning storage rooms, hotchpotch treasures and palpable functionality.

Another of Bianca’s utterances comes to mind – distinct to gallery-goers, she said, Depot visitors ‘are part of the process – not just the end result’.



Other cool spots to check out in Rotterdam

Cocondo


Cocondo Bunker B&B Hook of Holland, Netherlands

WWII bunker turned chic rental

Twelve miles east in the beach town Hook of Holland, Peter de Krom is converting World War II bunkers into memorable rental homes.

His first, a former telephone exchange turned chic two-bed den, has just opened.

Book from £108pn via Cocondo.

Supernova


Supernova

Swanky rooms in the heart of the shopping district

Near the multicultural West-Kruiskade and Binnenweg shopping streets, this well-designed hotel has local artworks on sale in its cheerful, spacious rooms, plus a focal bar, boutique and garden.

Book from £118pn via Supernova Hotel.

Putaine


Putaine restaurant

Fine dining in a relaxed setting

This is relaxed top-end dining. Typified by beef tartare with posh ketchup and fermented gooseberries, Putaine’s rangy, inventive eats are superb. Ditto the cocktails and low-lit interiors.

Visit Putaine’s website for more details.

Remastered


Remastered art installation

Interactive art

Another mind-bending art experience.

Walking through four installations, you’ll visit a touch-sensitive aquarium, enter Van Gogh’s house and see Mondrian geometry constantly mutate as techno plays. Truly exhilarating.

Tickets cost £20 via Remastered.

Tickets £17, including tours (boijmans.nl/depot). Eurostar has direct returns from London St Pancras from £78, eurostar.com

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