Why do Museums Keep Thousands of Artworks Locked Away in Storage?

It might seem strange, but let us explain in this installment of our Curator Close-Up video series.

The High owns over 17,000 works of art, which means thousands of works remain in storage, each awaiting its moment in the sun.

When the time comes for an artwork to go on view, the work exits its secure home in storage and makes its way to the galleries.

There the artwork can reveal itself to the world, radiate its colors freely, transform the space around it, and meet face to face with the people who seek some meaning in its image.

Why shouldn’t every work enjoy such a triumphant debut?

First of all, limited gallery space poses a very real constraint. All 17,000 works simply can’t fit on the walls at one time.

Second of all, this proverbial “moment in the sun” also refers to something more literal: light. Although galleries have controlled light levels, they’re still much brighter than art storage spaces. Most artworks can’t withstand extended exposure to light without sustaining damage.

So, how do our curators determine what to put on view when?

With the High’s reinstallation reveal just around the corner, many visitors will find themselves asking that same question. Watch this video to hear Katherine Jentleson, the High’s Merrie and Dan Boone Curator of Folk and Self-Taught Art, offer her perspective.

We wish we could show you all of our artworks all of the time. Since we can’t, we suggest you go pay a visit to an artwork enjoying its time in the spotlight. Take the opportunity to see it before it goes away again — especially if it’s a particularly vulnerable object like a work on paper or a textile.

Rosie Lee Tompkins, Untitled, 1986

Start by saying hello to this brilliant quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins in the exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art before it goes away on September 30.

Don’t miss the High’s 2018 reinstallation reveal beginning on October 14. Come see the exciting changes we’ve made to our galleries and enjoy the works our curators have carefully selected for display.

What if you want to see something that’s off view? Try exploring the High’s online collection search to see the majority of the Museum’s collection digitally.


By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist