Museums Struggle Under the Weight of Their Collections

For visitors of art museums, few things are as exciting as viewing original works by the world’s greatest artists. While many people might think that the Louvre in Paris was the first art museum, the Capitoline Museum in Rome was established nearly 60 years earlier in 1734. Still, there is historical evidence that art objects have been put on display for the public to view since the days of Julius Caesar, and since then, art museums have tried to amass as much artwork as possible to benefit the public.

The issue, after so many years of collecting art, is that museums simply don’t have the space to display their entire collection and many of their pieces are tucked away in warehouses and basements. Fortunately, with the aid of digital solutions, space is no longer a limitation and these hidden masterpieces can once again be viewed by art enthusiasts the world over.

The Amount of Artwork Is Staggering

Art galleries are notorious for providing less than accurate data regarding how much artwork they own, but it is estimated that across the globe, the number of paintings owned by art museums is in the billions. The numbers are hard to come by, but one study indicated that only 44% of the typical museum’s artwork is on display at any given time. In bigger museums, such as the Louvre and the Guggenheim, that number can be as low as 10%.

Why Is So Much Artwork Never Displayed?

The biggest reason for not displaying a work, of course, is that the museum simply doesn’t have the wall space for it. Keep in mind that a lot of art is donated to these museums on a regular basis and so the collection keeps growing. There is also the problem of a particular painting no longer fitting in with the curatorial mission of the museum. Finally, many pieces of art donated to the museums come from owners who entrust these pieces to them for safekeeping and not to be put on display. The owners, in other words, only want to keep the pieces so they can appreciate over time.

How Much Artwork Is Off Display?

Based on the research done by Quartz, we can see the huge disparity between works on display vs those off display.

Why Is This Significant?

Not only is this off display artwork not being enjoyed by the public, but you have to remember that the staff at the art museums involved have to be there on a daily basis to run the museums. Art museums don’t only need curators, but they also need groundskeepers, security guards, tour guides, and retail workers for the gift shop, among others. While some of the smaller museums operate with only a handful of staff, the bigger ones employ dozens of people to get the work done.

Typically, small art museums have one curator, but bigger museums can have more. The paintings alone at the Louvre in Paris are currently managed by a total of 12 curators.

What About Digital Art?

COVID-19 has reduced the number of people visiting art museums, but as of 2019, roughly 230 million people visited the art museums of the world on a yearly basis. While many of these museums have closed in recent years, today that number has dwindled down to 54 million. Still, it is very likely to pick up in a post-COVID world, even though the number may not go back up to what it was just a few years ago. Could offering digital artwork be the key to allowing people to view more artwork in today’s museums, including the artwork that isn’t currently on display?

A digital art gallery has unlimited wall space and can handle unlimited guests at any time. There is also the advantage of virtual visitors being able to spend as much time as they want with a particular artwork while in the comfort of their own home. Digital art also offers a high resolution viewing experience which might actually be clearer than the real thing.


While virtual visits to art galleries might not fully replace in-person visits, they do offer huge advantages. For one thing, in a post-COVID world, they can be the push needed to get people back to visiting museums when they aren’t comfortable with the idea of visiting them in person. In addition, art museums get to show off their entire collection much to the delight of art lovers around the world regardless of time and place.