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Rarely seen artworks reveal untold stories in new exhibition
Two Female Heads, 1600–1650s. Abraham Bloemaert (Dutch, 1564–1651). Red chalk heightened with white chalk; framing lines in brown ink; sheet: 7.8 x 12.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Anne Elizabeth Wilson Memorial Fund, 1994.15.



CLEVELAND, OH.- When the pandemic upended international travel in March 2020, temporarily delaying projects that had been in development for years, the Cleveland Museum of Art reimagined its schedule of exhibitions by drawing on its own resources. Stories from Storage offers a thoughtful and focused examination of multiple important themes through seldom-seen works of art carefully selected by each of the museum’s nearly two dozen curators. It conveys not a single, linear narrative but multiple stories that complement one another.

Stories from Storage features an anthology of 20 short stories told by the museum’s director, chief curator, curators and assistant director of academic affairs, all of whom communicate surprising new insights about the objects they have chosen from the CMA’s vaults. Alternately philosophical, humorous, contemplative, playful and historical, each story reveals a unique element within the museum’s encyclopedic collection, representing human creativity across the globe, from the ancient world to today. Stories from Storage will be on view in the museum’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall and Gallery from February 7 to May 16, 2021.

“This wonderful new exhibition offers a glimpse into our vault, making available works rarely, if ever, before seen by the public,” said William M. Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “In Stories from Storage, visitors will experience a range of curatorial approaches, expanding our visitors’ understanding of the museum’s collection by adding to, elucidating or even complicating the chronicle of art history we present in our permanent collection galleries.”

Stories from Storage demonstrates how museums shape historical narratives, each of which is told through a lens that prioritizes specific perspectives that are influenced by various factors, including time and place, the background of the curator, cultural and social trends and opportunities to tell new and different stories.

While the CMA has more than 61,000 objects in its permanent collection, only about 4,000 are on view in the galleries. Works remain in storage for various reasons: some are light sensitive, some have condition issues, some have contested attributions and others simply do not fit into the narratives or finite spaces of the galleries.

Stories from Storage

Trauma and Transformation
William Griswold, director, and Key Jo Lee, assistant director of academic affairs


This story demonstrates that a single work of art—Kara Walker’s monumental drawing The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads—may be interpreted and enjoyed through multiple lenses. The drawing is light sensitive and may be displayed only for a few months every several years.

Nature Transformed
William Robinson, senior curator of modern art


Providing an overview of four modes of modern landscape painting—ideal, natural, imaginary and abstract—the paintings offer evidence of the richness and depth of the museum’s collection of academic, naturalistic and avant-garde art.

Things That Don’t Fit (Here)
Susan Bergh, curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American art


Many museums have artworks in storage that don’t fit into the histories their collections have been shaped to tell in the galleries. This is due in part to how histories are constructed—always from points of view and, in museums, with finite resources. So it is with the four diverse groups of objects in this section, all having their first public outings in years. They hail from the Pacific Islands, eastern South America and Mexico.

Playbook for Solitude
Sooa Im McCormick, curator of Korean art


By juxtaposing historical and contemporary Korean works of art made in different periods and mediums, this story creates a moment of solace and inspires a dialogue about resilience, empathy and social justice during the forced solitude caused by the global pandemic.

Replication and Reinterpretation, Old and New
Seth Pevnick, curator of Greek and Roman art


Replication and reinterpretation occur frequently in Greek, Etruscan and Roman artwork, with artists adapting and reproducing familiar forms, motifs and images for new uses. Alongside modern scholarly reinterpretation, a range of replication also continues today, creating fascinating tales within the lives of museum objects usually kept in storage.

Paper Airplanes
Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography


These 15 photographs of tourist destinations whisk viewers off to distant locales, offering the fantasy and romance of travel without its travails, while demonstrating the depth and breadth of the museum’s photography collection.

A Focused Look
Mark Cole, William P. and Amanda C. Madar Curator of American Painting and Sculpture


Yet to be shown because its intimate scale makes it difficult to hang among other, larger canvases in the permanent collection galleries, Sanford R. Gifford’s Haverstraw Bay, of 1868, is displayed in an isolated setting to help reduce distraction and maximize the potential for contemplative viewing.

A Painting Is a Sculpture
Emily Liebert, curator of contemporary art




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This story stages a dialogue between Sarah Sze (American, b. 1969) and Marcel Broodthaers (Belgian, 1924–1976) through works that have never been displayed in the contemporary galleries. During their respective eras, both artists redefined the possibilities of sculpture and installation by integrating painting, photography, film and language.

Lenore Tawney: Postcard Collages
Emily Peters, curator of prints and drawings


On view at the CMA for the first time since 1985, textile artist Lenore Tawney’s 41 postcard collages—mailed between 1969 and 1981 to her friend, the art dealer, curator and critic Katharine Kuh—illustrate the artist’s personal visual vocabulary and poetic response to materials, while at the same time engaging with universal themes such as vulnerability, resilience and spirituality.

Art in the Time of the Black Death
Gerhard Lutz, Robert P. Bergman Curator of Medieval Art


The COVID-19 pandemic not only has a profound impact on our lives but also opens a new perspective on the late Middle Ages. This story, told through the CMA’s rich collection of medieval art, including manuscripts rarely on view because of their light sensitivity, gives insights into the thinking, piety and artistic production in Western Europe in the 14th century before, during and after the Black Death.

Green Tara and the Art of Protection
Sonya Rhie Mace, George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art


In this installation, ten rarely seen objects from India and Nepal, dating from about the 700s to the 1600s, explain and illuminate the elements of the exquisite, intricate 13th-century Tibetan thangka painting of Green Tara. Together they introduce audiences to the direct transmission of the sacred arts of protection.

(RE)search and (RE)store
Cory Korkow, associate curator of European art


One monumental sculpture and five once-celebrated paintings, whose condition prevents them from being ordinarily on view, reveal mysteries and problems that audiences rarely see. This story provides an enticing peek at artworks waiting in the wings to be researched or rehabilitated, while highlighting the unseen story of the compromised condition of these objects and their need for conservation.

Urban Isolation
Nadiah Rivera Fellah, associate curator of contemporary art


Each of these works epitomizes the larger theme of exclusion or isolation that creates the sense of a strange world within everyday landscapes. For this story, artworks from across the globe and of different mediums, periods and art movements evoke a sense of urban isolation or dislocation, uniting a range of perspectives on the same theme.

Protection and Preservation of the Word
Sinéad Vilbar, curator of Japanese art


The recently completed restoration of Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities presents an opportunity to display the painting likely for the first time in a generation. This story explores the painstaking conservation process as well as its relationship to the Repository for the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, a rarely exhibited work also on view with rediscovered sacred texts it once housed.

All Creatures Great and Small
Stephen Harrison, former curator of decorative art and design


In the 1920s, educators at the CMA began acquiring art from around the world to be used as teaching aids in schools and libraries. Because of their artistic significance, many of these objects were later transferred to the museum’s permanent collection. Within this material, there exists a substantial group of miniature figures of animals and children made in Austria and Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, before Nazi rule. These small sculptural works in cloth, metal and ceramic reflect the creativity of designers following the premise that within every child there is an artist, and in every artist is a child. This story explores the connections between childhood, artistic expression and whimsical design.

Have a Seat! From Floor Culture to Furniture of Ming and Qing Dynasty China
Clarissa von Spee, James and Donna Reid Curator of Chinese Art


China is the only culture in East Asia that moved entirely from an original “floor culture,” as still practiced in Japan and Korea, to high seats and tables, developing a unique tradition of craftsmanship in furniture. As museum gallery space is limited, Chinese furniture has had to remain in storage; this is a unique opportunity to show five major furniture pieces for the first time since they were acquired.

Threads across Time: African Textiles, 500–1993
Kristen Windmuller-Luna, curator of African art


The CMA’s first focus on African textiles in nearly 50 years includes exquisite works from across the continent that have never been on view, as well as some unseen for decades. Despite their importance, African textiles have rarely been shown because of their size, light sensitivity and past collecting focuses on sculpture. Spanning garments, furnishings and contemporary art, these works describe the important role textiles play in many historical and present-day African cultures.

Mise en Page
Heather Lemonedes Brown, Virginia N. and Randall J. Barbato Deputy Director and Chief Curator


Mise en page is the French term for “placement on a page,” referring to an artist’s careful arrangement of numerous elements on a sheet of paper. A selection of 16 drawings traces the development of mise en page from its earliest expressions in the Renaissance through its refinement in 18th-century France, concluding with two sheets by artists in the 19th century who self-consciously paid homage to this tradition.

Open Windows
Britany Salsbury, associate curator of prints and drawings


Throughout history, artists have used windows as both a subject and a compositional device to convey a range of experiences and emotions, from longing to comfort. The artworks in this section encompass a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, and photography, and reveal the different ways artists from varied times and places—from Rembrandt van Rijn to René Magritte—have represented a single theme, allowing visitors to reconsider and compare their approaches.










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