If you think a large museum is overwhelming, consider the fact that most museums display less than 5 percent of their entire collection. The good news is, some museums actually allow visitors to see treasures that are in storage … if you know where to look.
At the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, you can leave the main galleries and head to the west wing to the “open storage” area.
Here, there are thousands of objects that used to be in storage.
We’re talking 3,300 items, compared to 500 in the regular exhibit, or nearly 25 percent of the museum’s entire collection.
The same foundation has also funded open-storage facilities at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the Brooklyn Museum.
With open storage, not everything is neatly labeled or organized, and displays are usually denser than regular exhibitions.
At the Tacoma Art Museum they’ve installed cases where visitors can open drawers to look at jewelry collections, which fits more items than if they were out on display.
At the Quebec Museum of Folk Culture, you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of a storage area, and even learn how to wrap and store art yourself.
But even if a museum doesn’t have an open-storage room, it doesn’t mean you can’t see hidden-away items.
Many smaller museums will allow you to see pieces that are too delicate for display—if you call ahead.
Get more information with the Museum Travel section.
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