the future of the museum

The new Collections Depot for Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is under construction.

I visited a couple of weeks ago and had a chat with Sjarel Ex, Director of Boijmans.

This is opening the doors of the museum and gallery in a new way – all 150,000 items in the collection will be available to everyone in this great treasure bowl, reflecting the city, a singing bowl, as Connie Svabo sees it, resonating, re-sounding, punctuating a city mindful of itself. A project in Archive 3.0, or more – as Gabriella (Giannachi) would have it [Link].

There are more comments about this game-changing project, this daring cultural innovation on my Vimeo site – [Link]

Boijmans has an extraordinary record for addressing key questions about the future of museums and art galleries – for example, I was proud to be part of curator Annemartine Van Kesteren’s extraordinary “design Column” – a series of “critical design” exhibitions commenting on current events through the works of design studios – [Link]

Director Sjarel Ex and architect Winy Maas of MVRDV are coming to Stanford in December to share their ideas. Watch out for the events – a conversation and a workshop December 4,5,6.

Here is what we are saying:

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam is one of the top art and design museums of Europe – [Link]

Under construction is a new extension that will change the way we think of art galleries and museums. We are calling it a Collections Depot.

Art is one of the greatest catalysts for change; it has the rare capacity to move us, to forge new connections, to inspire and provoke new ideas. Yet people rarely associate art museums with innovation. In Rotterdam we aim to change this by creating a new kind of building with the highest density of art works on earth, with 100% of our collection available to visitors through rich user-centered experiences, facilitated by the latest tech, where we can all connect our diverse interests in art, culture and design with our different hopes and visions for the future.

We invite you to join us in designing this museum of the future.

Why art matters

What truly moves people? A great painting, a singular sculpture or piece of music, a remarkable piece of design. Art has the rare capacity to speak to all of us about what really matters. Art reminds us of what it is to be human, what makes us who we are, and what propels us forward. Museums are laboratories of ideas and hubs of marvelous experience where creative effort from all periods and places can help us understand better our own place in the world.

Democratizing art

Museums worldwide show only 8% of their art to the public. The rest is locked away. At Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, when the time came to upgrade our storage, we let our imagination run free. We imagined a place where 100% of the collection is available to everyone, where people will be free to explore on their own, making their way through a buzzing beehive of activity where art works packed and unpacked, restored and studied in dazzling quantities.

We imagined how we might open up the museum to complete democratic access, with everyone as a curator.

Rotterdam architect Winy Maas, co-founder of MVRDV, one of the world’s great architecture studios, has designed an extraordinary forty-meter high silvered bowl — the worlds first public art Collections Depot that breaks with museum standards and gives unlimited access to 150,000 treasures.

In 2018 the building will stand tall. We are now addressing the challenge to make the museum experience completely transformative for everyone.

Let your imagination run free

For this dream, there are no templates, no rules, no precedents. In true Rotterdam spirit, we are free to be pioneers – to do things differently. How might we navigate through a warehouse filled with more art than any other place on earth, and without a curator?

We invite you to push our ideas forward, to strengthen, challenge and question them. To make us reach higher so that we can connect with more people in more profound, moving and enduring ways.

Let your imagination run free. What kind of experience do you dream of?

More about the collections of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Located in the heart of the city of Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is one of the oldest museums in the Netherlands, built from the passions of private collectors. It is the only art museum in The Netherlands where visitors can travel through time, exploring art from the 14th century to the 21st; from Bosch, Rembrandt and Cézanne to Dalí and contemporary Dutch Design. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is international in focus, including works by American artists such as Warhol, Rothko, Basquiat and Serra and is widely known for its design collection, surrealist art, for its prints and drawings, and for its daring experiments in exhibition design. [Link]

materiality of the invisible

Yesterday I had the great honor to open a remarkable exhibition of artworks at the Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht.

multiform institute for fine art, design and reflection

Curators: Lex ter Braak, Director of Van Eyck and Huib Haye van der Werf, Head of Artistic Program. The exhibition runs through The Van Eyck Academie, Marres, and Bureau Europe in Maastricht.

I have no doubt that this is one of the most sophisticated explorations I have encountered of what I call the archaeological imagination. Stunning!

I have expanded the talk I gave at the opening – and I am still hardly doing justice to this gathering of artists, works, ideas, provocations … and so much more. Here is the slide deck.


Sema Bekirovic – Ovid’s Pygmalion — cold plaster coming alive through the touch of a warm hand

RAAAF – models in a basement of WWII bunkers

Fernando Sánchez Castillo – Franco’s yacht

Daniel Silver – we rework, revive, reinvent, remediate ancient monumental forms


The past comes back to haunt in all sorts of ways.

This is a key feature of the archaeological imagination.

It may be something like “this happened here”, or “this was the way it was, and still is”.

And, as archaeologists, as all of us do – we return, revisit, rehearse, reiterate, repeat.

This familiar phenomenon is nostos. It might be a sentimental nostalgia, though the etymology connects return or homecoming (Homer’s nostos) with algos, pain, and nostalgia was first used to describe the experiences, aftermath and mental affliction of mercenaries fighting away from home, what we might well now call post-traumatic stress. Hauntings can be comforting reminders or dreadful specters of things we cannot forget.

In February Mike (Pearson) and I began reviewing our book Theatre/Archaeology, returning to the conversation and collaboration of these past 25 years [Link]. In our fascination with site specificity [Link] (how site and context are never simple setting), we chose to locate our discussion and new plans in a place to which I constantly return, the English/Scottish borders, a place quite unfamiliar to Mike.

And in the connecting hybridity of theatre/archaeology (the re-articulation of fragments of the past as real-time event), returning (to) pasts (archaeology) connects with performances rehearsed, and the iterative cycles of prototyping, reworking and remaking that characterize any process of design.

Just after our trip to the borders we both joined a conference at deSingel in Antwerp “Tracing Creation” [Link] Tracing-Creation-Program concerned with what surrounds performance and theatre, or any creative act, in the way of planning, preparation, documentation, rehearsal, aftermath.

On Wednesday Tim Etchells offered a remarkable performance of “Looping Pieces” – the repeated delivery, the rehearsal in repeated takes of fragments of text, ideas, overheard conversations, cut-and-paste-excerpts from newspaper articles and web pages, drafts, quotations and other notes.


On Thursday Romeo Castellucci and the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio presented a revival of their 1995 version of the Oresteia.


What holds all this together is the cultural circuit at the heart of the archaeological imagination.


Cragside, Northumberland

Scene of crime. Investigating with Mike Pearson.







Home and estate of the First Lord Armstrong. Now in the hands of The National Trust.


A returning fascination with postal systems (… The Crying of Lot 49) – see the section on the postcard in my “Experiencing the Past” – [Link]

Expired Polaroid film stock (Type 690) – 2006.

Camera – NPC 195.



Model T Ford at the Palace of Fine Arts

I was at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco this morning to welcome the arrival of the Historic Vehicle Association of America in their 1915 Model T Ford – culmination of a 3600 mile drive from Detroit following the tracks of Edsel Ford who made the same road trip a century ago. He came to attend the Panama Pacific International Exposition, for which this great classical rotunda and colonnade were built.

Yesterday’s visit to Stanford – [Link]


(Photo by Amy Sullivan)



The welcoming committee (L-R): Donna Huggins, Mayor Lee’s PPIE100 (Panama Pacific International Exposition 100 year anniversary) Spokesperson; Randy Book, grandson of one of the friends who traveled with Edsel Ford in 1915; Paul Ianuario, Mark Gessler, Casey Maxon of the Historic Vehicle Association (HVA), MS, Phil Ginsburg, General Manager, San Francisco Parks and Recreation; Mike Sangiacomo, VP California Historical Society. (Photo by Amy Sullivan)

(Click on the pictures for enlargement)

I was with the car in Carmel last week as part of the week of car events around Monterey. What was striking then, yesterday in Stanford, and again today, is the way an artifact like this acts as catalyst – provoking in people all sorts of feelings, memories, thoughts. Someone this morning had seen the car on TV and came along because she had a family connection with the original trip. There were other family links too, including Randy Book’s grandfather who was on the trip with Edsel, though Randy didn’t know until the HVA trip was announced – more personal links than I’d ever have expected. People tune into this connection, then-now, made through an iconic and populist machine, the robust, forgiving, adaptable, characterful Model T, present, ready-to-hand, on a street in San Francisco today. Everyone smiles. This is what I call the actuality of the archaeological imagination – the energy of the then-now linkage through a material artifact – [Link] [Link]

And this is why we need to care for automotive heritage (where heritage is the past-in-the-present) – the power of the past-present link to provoke reaction, reflection.

The link with the world fair of 1915 is also one that provokes reflection. It was organized to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, a new modern global artery connecting the west and east Americas, as well as San Francisco’s recovery after the earthquake of 1906.

Designed by Bernard Maybeck, the Palace of Fine Arts is a kind of folly of an ancient ruin, meant only to be temporary, constructed of wooden framing, canvas and plaster. It was so decayed by the 1960s that it was rebuilt in concrete, then refurbished with seismic upgrades in 2010. This evocation of another era makes us think about the value of retaining links with the past, collective material memories, mnemonics, that offer orientation, even when they also need substantial injections of cash and resources to maintain them. So we preserve, conserve, restore, rebuild, because of the returns in cultural, community, and personal emotional value.

And look now at this juxtaposition of a classical evocation with the San Francisco and Bay Area of 2015.

It’s the same, I suggest, with the Model T.


Edwin Deakin 1915

The road trip today in a century old vehicle  is not just a story to be told. It’s an event, a performance, here and now, present before us. This is why I call it theatre/archaeology. The HVA road trip is a brilliant intervention in a debate of which many people will not be aware – the neglect of a key component of modern experience – automobility. The HVA is promoting awareness of the need to record, conserve, preserve, study the history of the automobile, because it is not happening and we stand quickly to lose the remains of what has been such a key component of people’s lives this last 120 years.

On heritage and intervention – see my essay “Let me tell you about Hadrian’s Wall: heritage, performance, design” – [Link]