Dream wish Groninger Museum: public museum depot such as Boijmans in Rotterdam with restoration laboratory. But more to see

The depot of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam was recently the presentation location of the previously stolen painting ‘Spring Garden’ by Vincent van Gogh. The depot is publicly accessible. ‘Lentetuin’ owner Groninger Museum also wants something like this here.

The round, contemporary depot of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam reflects back to you from afar. Just walking up to it is an adventure. And then you can also go inside to view (part of) the stored art collection spread over six floors.

Groninger Museum in desired depot

How great it would be if the stored art of the Groninger Museum could be viewed in a similar way, director Andreas Blühm thought. Sixty thousand objects now lie, stand and hang idle in a hermetically sealed depot in Hoogkerk. Or do nothing: every now and then something moves to the museum. But the collection is far too extensive to be permanently in view.

Last week, Blühm trained with a team of employees to Depot Boijmans for the presentation of Van Gogh’s spring garden, the previously stolen painting from his museum, returned and now under investigation for restoration.

Boijmans also had to

The construction of Depot Boijmans and its opening to the public was a necessity for Rotterdam. The ‘real’ museum next door closed its doors for a mega renovation, which subsequently got out of hand and will last until at least 2030. Blühm’s plan does not require anything to be built. Only adapted and redecorated. He envisions a place in the abandoned, monumental and ‘smoked out’ Niemeyer tobacco factory on the Paterswoldseweg in Groningen.

Depot Boijmans has two elevator shafts at its heart, enclosed by glass. There are walkways around it in long rectangles on each floor, with a crossing between the elevators. Art is hung against the glass of the elevator shafts, criss-cross in terms of era and form, but spot on.

On the outside of those paths there are spaces with a lot of storage, of which only the sides are dryly visible, frames, plus a limited number of works in front of them, in your face displayed. There are also museum rooms where the public can walk past art in a dust coat and with a guide and receive explanations. Then you have the studios in which specialists are busy behind glass with research and restoration, plus ‘bare’ public spaces for meetings.

Learning lessons elsewhere for the Niemeyer factory

“Part of the costs are recouped here through rental to private individuals,” says Andreas Blühm. His idea for the depot in Niemeyer is young and more of a beautiful dream than a plan. That will only happen if the municipality starts the train and jumps on it itself. Project developer MWPO is interested in taking over the factory. This is still owned by British American Tobacco. MWPO would then like to grant it the cultural destination desired by the municipality. With cultural entrepreneurs and the museum. RTV Noord is also looking at it with a slanted eye.

Blühm soon wants to visit the almost three-year-old Netherlands Collection Center in Amersfoort, which functions as a (non-public) depot of the Dutch Open Air Museum, Paleis Het Loo museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Cultural Heritage Agency. “There are lessons to be learned in compact storage.” In addition, there is a study collection and research rooms.

Facilities also for other regional museums

Blühm: “We would also like such research rooms plus a laboratory for restoration here. Such facilities are not only intended for the Groninger Museum and Museum aan de A, but with us in the lead for all museums in the region that want to use it,” says Blühm. “Facilitating, nothing coercive. We don’t even know who is interested yet. But such a restoration site is really a great wish.”

The Spring garden by Vincent van Gogh is currently being examined in Boijmans and later restored. Blühm: “We are now renting a place for it at a collegiate friend price. But it would be great if we could do such work in Groningen itself.”

Get even more and better visibility

The open space in the heart of Depot Boijmans, from bottom to top with the elevators, is beautiful in itself. “And it is very nice that as a visitor you can see the researchers working behind glass.” Yet construction also has something limiting, Blühm believes. The vertical ‘void’ comes at the expense of space that could have been used for viewing art. “Take this here,” he says on one of the balustrades. Behind a wide glass window lies the art, where you can largely guess what is what. “I would prefer to have corridors to the back between these objects at right angles to this display window. So that you as an audience can get closer.”

These corridors must also be made of glass from top to bottom. Blühm: “You can’t avoid that. It must be possible to regulate the climate and humidity in each room. And glass keeps out dust.”

No vibrations caused by trains

The Niemeyer factory is ideally suited as a museum depot. “The floors are thick, so there are no problems with weight. The building has high spaces and is large in terms of surface area,” says Blühm. Niemeyer is located right along the track to Friesland. “I recently went inside to feel if there were any vibrations when a train passed by. Nothing at all.”

The museum director not only thinks it is a shame that his own enormous collection is gathering dust in the current depot in Hoogkerk. Other museums could also use a new accessible depot. “The University Museum has beautiful objects that are now hidden away and we can then show them. It has very special things in terms of physics and ethnology.”

The floor is up to MWPO, the municipality and external lenders.

Van Gogh’s ‘Spring Garden’ on March 29 in Groningen

The painting Spring garden by Vincent van Gogh is owned by the Groninger Museum. It was stolen from Museum Singer in Laren in 2020, shortly after the start of the first lockdown. The painting came to light again through art detective Arthur Brand. The Groninger Museum bought it back from the insurance company, which had previously paid compensation.

Marjan de Visser, often called in by the Groninger Museum for the restoration of Ploeg work, examines Lentetuin in Depot Boijmans, where the painting of February 29, cleaned and all, also hangs in the display case. After that comes Spring garden back to Groningen, where Van Gogh’s work will be exhibited for a year from March 29. Then it goes back to Boijmans, where De Visser starts the restoration, before it finally returns to Groningen.