Friday February 5, 2021
Tags for: Rarely Seen Artworks Reveal Untold Stories in New Exhibition
  • Press Release

Rarely Seen Artworks Reveal Untold Stories in New Exhibition

exterior of the CMA building

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents “Stories from Storage,” featuring 20 stories about works of art from the museum’s vaults

Cleveland (February 5, 2021) — When the pandemic upended international travel in March 2020, temporarily delaying projects that had been in development for years, the museum 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 director of academic affairs and associate curator of special projects, 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, director of academic affairs and associate curator of special projects
    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 
    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, curator of European paintings and sculpture, 1500–1800 
    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.

Please view the press kit for more information and a selection of visual highlights.

Become a Member

See Stories from Storage for free when you become a CMA member. Members are admitted free to most special exhibitions. Additionally, members have an opportunity to take advantage of other special discounts and exclusive events happening throughout the year.


CMA members free; adults $12; seniors and adult groups $9; students and children ages 5 to 17 $6; children under 5 free.

Tickets can be reserved online at, at the box office or by calling 216-421-7350. Free general admission tickets are also required.

Major support is provided by the Sandy and Sally Cutler Strategic Opportunities Fund and Malcolm Kenney. Additional support is provided by Astri Seidenfeld. Generous support is provided by Russell Benz, in memory of Helen M. DeGulis, by Carl M. Jenks, and by Robin and Andrew Schachat.

All exhibitions at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Exhibitions. Major annual support is provided by the Estate of Dolores B. Comey and Bill and Joyce Litzler, with generous annual funding from Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Chapman Jr., the Jeffery Wallace Ellis Trust in memory of Lloyd H. Ellis Jr., Ms. Arlene Monroe Holden, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, William S. and Margaret F. Lipscomb, Tim O’Brien and Breck Platner, the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and Claudia Woods and David Osage.

The ArtLens App: Your Guide to Stories from Storage

With the CMA’s ArtLens App, hear from each curator to learn why they picked the objects for their story in the exhibition. Listen to a special introduction from Director William Griswold, get access to in-depth information with high-resolution images of every artwork on view and gain special insights into each of the 20 stories. Keep the entire exhibition at your fingertips to dive deep whether at home, or at the museum.

Download the FREE App: ArtLens App (ArtLens Download Instructions) is available to download for FREE to iOS9 or higher and to Android devices (5.0+). Learn more about the app’s guide to the exhibition.

Members Only Virtual Event

To join or attend this virtual event, please click here to become a member.

Virtual CMA Members Opening of Stories from Storage

Thursday, February 18, 2021, 6 p.m., EST 
All CMA members are invited to go behind the scenes and learn about the making of the major spring exhibition, Stories from Storage. Hear from CMA director and president William Griswold about how the exhibition was conceptualized and learn how the CMA makes exhibitions come to life.

Virtual Public Programming

Desktop Dialogues: Authenticating Antiquity

Wednesday, February 17, noon, EST 
Must an artwork be completely original to have artistic, historical and educational value?

Curator Seth Pevnick and conservator Colleen Snyder discuss this question, revealing some of the art historical and scientific investigative research involved in selecting, preparing and determining the age of ancient Greek and Roman objects on display in Stories from Storage.

Changing the Stories Museums Tell

Wednesday, February 24, 6 p.m., EST 
Art museums in the United States follow a prescribed narrative, built upon Eurocentric notions of history and collecting practices informed by legacies of colonialism and social and racial inequality. But is it possible to expand the stories told on their walls and floors?

Join Linda C. Harrison, director and CEO of the Newark Museum of Art; Rehema Barber, chief curator of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts; and Key Jo Lee, assistant director of academic affairs at the CMA, for a conversation on how to build a different and more inclusive future for museums. Together they discuss the ways they, as museum leaders and professionals, have disrupted these conventional narratives and practices to introduce historical incidents, artists, subjects and ideas often left out of the story.

This program is organized in tandem with Stories from Storage.

Desktop Dialogues: An Art Anthology

For this special series of Desktop Dialogues, organized in collaboration with Literary Cleveland, four local storytellers—playwright Eric Coble, culinary historian Sarah Lohman, musical collective Mourning [A] BLKstar and poet Kamden Hilliard—offer a creative interpretation of select works from Stories from Storage.

Tune in to enjoy each storyteller’s unique interpretation of objects from the exhibition as they engage in conversation with CMA curators and select guests.

  • Chapter One 
    Wednesday, March 17, noon, EDT 
    Eric Coble
  • Chapter Two 
    Wednesday, April 7, noon, EDT 
    Sarah Lohman
  • Chapter Three 
    Wednesday, April 21, noon, EDT 
    Mourning [A] BLKstar
  • Chapter Four 
    Wednesday, May 5, noon, EDT 
    Kamden Hilliard

The Material Lives of Objects

Wednesday, April 14, 6 p.m., EDT 
Art objects tell stories not only in the narratives displayed on their surfaces but also in their transformations as material objects over time.

Join the CMA’s Eric and Jane Nord Chief Conservator Sarah Scaturro, associate conservator for East Asian paintings Sara Ribbans and former senior conservator of paintings Marcia Steele as they highlight recently conserved works on view in Stories from Storage and Variations: The Reuse of Models in Paintings by Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. They share the new stories and the hidden histories that their research and treatments have revealed and discuss the differences between Western and Eastern conservation methods.

Principal support is provided by the Sandy and Sally Cutler Strategic Opportunities Fund. Additional support is provided by the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

All education programs at the Cleveland Museum of Art are underwritten by the CMA Fund for Education. Generous annual funding is provided by an anonymous supporter, Mr. and Mrs. Walter R. Chapman Jr., the Sam J. Frankino Foundation, the Lloyd D. Hunter Memorial Fund, Eva and Rudolf Linnebach, Dr. Linda M. Sandhaus and Dr. Roland S. Philip, and the Womens Council of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Visiting the museum’s permanent collections is always FREE to the public. Reserve FREE entry tickets. The museum’s hours of operation are Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays. The last ticket reservation for the day is at 4:00 p.m. There will be no new entries into the museum after 4:30 p.m.

For more information about the museum’s safety procedures, please view the FAQ sheet on the museum’s website at

Contact the Museum's Media Relations Team:
(216) 707-2261