How the Internet Engendered the Current Visual Storage Trend at Museums


Museums in the midst of major expansions and renovations — like LACMA, the Brooklyn Museum (pictured), and the Cincinnati Art Museum — or those currently under construction like the Broad in Los Angeles, are following the examples of institutions like the Metropolitan Museum or the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver and putting more of their storage facilities on display. “I think that behind all of this is the sense that the standard notion of what is display and what is storage has been changing in our culture,” Cincinnati Art Museum director Aaron Betsky told outgoing Los Angeles Times art reporter Jori Finkel. “More broadly, we have a different attitude toward image storage and retrieval because of new technologies.”

The Henry R. Luce Center for the Study of American Art at the Met — which houses roughly 40 percent of the museum’s American art collection, or 7,129 artifacts — and the Brooklyn Museum’s Luce Center for American Art — which currently holds some 2,600 items by will expand this fall — were both partially funded by the Henry Luce Foundation under the guidance of Henry “Hank” Luce, who died in 2005.

“Thank goodness for the Luce Foundation and Hank Luce himself, who was a major proponent of using this new invention to allow the public to see more of what an institution holds as stewards,” Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman told Finkel.

Now the trend is catching on, and museums around the country are increasingly incorporating visual storage into their building design and curatorial program. “You end up curating your storage,” said Joanne Heyler, director and chief curator at the Broad, which will let visitors see into its painting storage area via floor-to-ceiling walls.

One of the major appeals of the visual storage concept, Finkel suggests, is its open-ended, choose-your-own-adventure style of presentation, which allows visitors to seek out objects they find interesting and compelling with relatively little curatorial direction, which she likens to the process of searching for images online. “What we’ve found is that people love visible storage,” Lehman said. “They feel like they’re on their own, not as directed as they would be in galleries, and they get to discover things. It’s like a treasure hunt.”

— Benjamin Sutton

(The Visible Storage/Study Center, The Luce Center for American Art installation view. Photo courtesy the Brooklyn Museum.)