It’s more like a giant art warehouse than a gallery (Picture: Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
After the security guard liberates a biometric lock, myself and 12 others in protective gowns enter a vast white room lined with countless supple storage units.
Along each hang paintings – 2,346 in all, including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Rubens.
Such a peculiar experience typifies Rotterdam’s new Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen (BvB), in the Netherlands’ ever innovative second city.
Opened in November, it supports a namesake adjacent museum that’s currently closed for renovation.
Having previously used private warehouses, the BvB has now collated its entire 151,000-strong collection in the Depot, and rendered the bulk publicly accessible – a museum first.
The museum is housed inside this futuristic reflective building (Picture: Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
It looks like a spaceship (Picture: Shutterstock / 365 Focus Photography)
The numbers are persuasive. Had you visited the museum when it was open last and scrutinised every single work on display, you’d still have seen only a fraction of the BvB’s collection.
At the Depot, only photographs and private collections are now off limits due to their sensitivity to light.
Within Rotterdam’s Museumpark, the Depot occupies a 40ft-high circular building clad in reflective glass panels.
From afar, it resembles a spaceship, adding to Rotterdam’s array of bold architecture, the design by local firm MVRDV.
Inside you can visit storage rooms filled with priceless artowrks (Picture: Marco De Swart/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
Inside, the Depot contains 14 thermo-regulated ‘compartments’ (storage rooms) divided by format (‘metals’ – ‘small inorganic materials’). Nine can be entered and to do so, you must sign up for 30-minute tours and don white gowns.
On my tour, which visits the ‘hanging objects’ (paintings) compartment, I don’t know where to look first.
Beautiful watercolours catch my eye down narrow storage alleys – frustratingly, as the works are just too precious, you can’t walk down to see canvases close up.
Yet I’m also enthralled by the sense of bounty, of being behind the scenes. ‘We’re in a warehouse, not a museum,’ reminds our guide Bianca. ‘Here, all works are treated the same – equally worth saving and equally worth showing.’
Besides joining tours, visitors can roam the Depot’s atrium. I slowly scale all seven floors via lifts and zigzagging staircases.
Visitors have to wear white gowns like these (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
It’s like a huge glass warehouse inside (Picture: Ossip van Duivenbode)
Those same nine compartments can all be peered into through large windows, with the Depot’s excellent app offering details about every visible item.
Cataloguers work in one. Amid the multi-level shelves in another, a Philippe Starck chair randomly tops a Philips TV to save space.
On the third storey, windows let me observe restoration studios. In one, lab-coated experts are carefully preserving a Van Gogh. No less enjoyable is a creamy pumpkin soup at top-floor restaurant Renilde.
The canteen-style tables neighbour a sprawling garden terrace where young birch trees frame city views.
Wandering back downstairs, although there’s a hubbub, the Depot never seems overcrowded (ahem, Tate Modern!)
That was an art experience, I conclude afterwards. I didn’t goggle at a seminal work, nor did I discover an artist or movement.
Instead, the main exhibit was the eye-catching Depot itself – its stunning storage rooms, hotchpotch treasures and palpable functionality.
Another of Bianca’s utterances comes to mind – distinct to gallery-goers, she said, Depot visitors ‘are part of the process – not just the end result’.
Other cool spots to check out in Rotterdam
WWII bunker turned chic rental
Twelve miles east in the beach town Hook of Holland, Peter de Krom is converting World War II bunkers into memorable rental homes.
His first, a former telephone exchange turned chic two-bed den, has just opened.
Swanky rooms in the heart of the shopping district
Near the multicultural West-Kruiskade and Binnenweg shopping streets, this well-designed hotel has local artworks on sale in its cheerful, spacious rooms, plus a focal bar, boutique and garden.
Fine dining in a relaxed setting
This is relaxed top-end dining. Typified by beef tartare with posh ketchup and fermented gooseberries, Putaine’s rangy, inventive eats are superb. Ditto the cocktails and low-lit interiors.
Another mind-bending art experience.
Walking through four installations, you’ll visit a touch-sensitive aquarium, enter Van Gogh’s house and see Mondrian geometry constantly mutate as techno plays. Truly exhilarating.
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