Weisman expansion may reveal unseen collections

Less than 1 percent of the U’s expansive art collection is currently on display.

Weisman Art Museum director Lyndel King, right, presents a sculpture by Duane Hanson of Frederick Weisman's father, one of over 20,000 works in the museum's storage.

Weisman Art Museum director Lyndel King, right, presents a sculpture by Duane Hanson of Frederick Weisman’s father, one of over 20,000 works in the museum’s storage.

In the depths of the Weisman Art Museum, painted bronze sculptures wrapped neatly in plastic stand firmly on wooden crates, and nearly 1,000-year-old Native American pots are carefully aligned along foam-covered shelves. Paintings of all sizes hang from cumbersome metal racks that effortlessly slide in and out of succession with each other. The University of MinnesotaâÄôs art museum houses nearly 20,000 artworks in its storage collection. The pieces have been accumulating since the museum opened in 1934, and most of the works in the collection were donated, museum Director Lyndel King said. About 100 pieces of the expansive collection, less than 1 percent, are currently on display. This number is expected to double after the WeismanâÄôs $14 million expansion project is completed in fall 2011, King said. âÄúIâÄôm hoping that these [storage] galleries will be much emptier after 2011,âÄù she said.100-square-foot addition will feature four new collection galleries, which will allow artwork currently in storage to be displayed for longer periods of time, King said. âÄúPeople come from all over the world to see these paintings, and theyâÄôre always amazed that we donâÄôt have more of them on display,âÄù King said. She said itâÄôs not uncommon for an art museum to keep most of its artwork in storage, especially when the collection is as big as the UniversityâÄôs. The UniversityâÄôs collection is nearly double the 11,000 pieces held by the Walker Art Center. Keeping the collection safe from all threats is a top priority for the Weisman. A strong air filtration system as well as humidity and temperature control help preserve the collection, King said. The art is also protected by constant University police surveillance and a strong security system with bomb-proof doors, King said. Access to the storage facilities is heavily restricted, and a limited number of authorized personnel have the ability to get inside the storage space, Laura Muessig, registrar for collections, said. Although the WeismanâÄôs storage facilities are kept under tight security, the collection pieces not on display are still available to University professors and students for educational use, Muessig said. Professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies Nita Krevans brings her students to the Weisman to study the museumâÄôs collection of ancient coins. Krevans said the Weisman is a valuable resource because it allows students to physically see and touch objects of study. âÄúItâÄôs fun for students to see and handle a 2,000-year-old object that incorporates material learned in the classroom,âÄù Krevans said. Despite the storage facilitiesâÄô heavy security, small groups of students and faculty escorted by authorized museum staff members visit the storage space if the art study room canâÄôt accommodate them. Muessig said the museum strives to find a balance between security and accessibility. âÄú[We do] whatever we can to serve the students here and now and provide access to our wonderful collection,âÄù she said.