Out of the vault and into the spotlight

Forty pieces of art from McGill’s Visual Art Collection, that are usually in storage or in less accessible areas, are now on public display.
McGill’s Visible Storage Gallery is now on display in the McLennan-Redpath Library. Photo: Neale McDevitt

There’s a beautiful, new and bright art display waiting for those who get off the elevator at the 4th floor of the McLennan-Redpath Library. Forty pieces of art from McGill’s Visual Arts Collection, that are usually in storage or in less accessible areas, are hanging on three walls salon-style, covering almost all of the space. The Visible Storage Gallery, which features work by members of the Group of Seven, the Beaver Hall group, among others, is part of a worldwide trend in museums and collections to bring art out of the vaults and into public view.

McGill’s Visible Storage Gallery will be a permanent exhibition on the 4th floor of the McLennan-Redpath Library, from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. The new Gallery is in the corridor that leads to Rare Books and Archives.

“The open storage is in a busy zone, introducing students and researchers to a sample of the Collection, and alerting them to its great potential for research,” says Vanessa Di Francesco, Assistant Curator of the Visual Arts Collection, and Curator of the Visible Storage Gallery. “The open storage space puts the works in conversation with one another, highlighting the variety of the University’s holdings in a single, cohesive space.”

Di Francesco chose pieces representing Canadian, Indigenous, and international art, past and present. There are paintings by Marian Dale Scott, First Nations’ artists Norval Morrisseau and Tony Hunt, Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté, Lilias Torrance Newton (of the Beaver Hall Group) and Group of Seven members Arthur Lismer and Edwin Holgate, among others.

An unframed sketch by Pierre-Auguste Renoir will go on display when a new display case is introduced in the second phase of the gallery’s installation this summer.

The increasingly popular trend of “visible storage galleries” has helped museums all over the world, which can only show a fraction of their collections, to open their storage closets to the public.

The Art Gallery of Ontario, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Brooklyn Museum have created innovative spaces that act as both storage and display.

Unlike most art collections, McGill’s has the distinct advantage of having many venues in which to show case its collection.

Over 2,000 artworks are on display in 90 buildings on three campuses in public outdoor spaces, corridors, classrooms and administrative spaces. They enhance the teaching, research and working environments of faculty, staff, students and visitors.

“We try to place as much of the art across campuses (downtown, Macdonald and Gault) so that it can be accessible to and enjoyed by the community at all times,” says Di Francesco.  “We have less than 10 per cent of our art in storage, part of which we are now able to share in this gallery space, further reducing the percentage of our Collection that is not on view.”

The Visible Storage Gallery project was funded by the McGill Library Innovation Fund. It has been in the works for some time, with many team members helping along the way. Daisy Charles, a former Visual Arts Collection Assistant, and Gwendolyn Owens, the Collection’s Director, initiated the project.

The space is open to the public over the summer, and will be officially launched with a vernissage in the fall.

Keep an eye on the Visual Arts Collection’s website and in Library news for the launch date.