Come see what’s in our drawers.

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the exhibits in The Nat’s building? The building looks bigger from the outside than inside because it holds 8 million specimens—animals, plants, fossils, shells, insects and spiders, minerals, and gems—in storage areas underground and behind gallery walls. We’re giving visitors a rare peek behind the scenes in our new exhibition, Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage. The exhibition is free for members and included with general admission.

Site-specific installation by artist Gabriel Rico

From September 24, 2021 to January 23, 2022, visitors are invited to see a site-specific installation inside Unshelved by conceptual artist Gabriel Rico that is part of an exhibition hosted at The Institute of Contemporary Art, San Diego (ICA San Diego).

Gabriel Rico: Unity in Variety is Rico’s riskiest exhibition to date. It transforms ICA San Diego’s double-height galleries in Balboa Park with neon, branches, rocks, shells, gems, taxidermy, glass, sand, and augmented reality into a journey that considers “the illusion of a border” between humanity and the natural world. It will feature both man-made and natural objects, including taxidermy specimens from our collection, and is the Guadalajara-based artist’s first solo exhibition in California.

The site-specific installation at The Nat will be situated across the back wall of the Unshelved exhibition gallery. Gabriel works with environmental themes, and this will be the first in a series of exhibitions at ICA San Diego featuring artists working with the environment.

From beautiful to bizarre.

A look behind the scenes in our storage areas is like a cross-section of the diversity of nature itself. You’ll find everything from tiny beetles to enormous whale bones. Patterns and symmetry in scales and feathers, in the twisting spiral of a gastropod shell, in branching antlers and beautiful corals. The alien weirdness of a whale barnacle or a giant stag beetle.

The specimens in the Museum’s holdings, which are meticulously preserved and catalogued, are curated by several departments that comprise the Biodiversity Research Center of the Californias (BRCC). Research departments and collections include Birds and Mammals, Botany, Entomology, Herpetology, Marine Invertebrates, Mineralogy, Paleontology, and the Research Library.

Due to the sheer size of our collection, we have an abundance of riches, though most of these specimens never see the light of day. Unshelved changes that by giving visitors a rare “backstage” glimpse of the Museum’s storage areas. Specimens arranged on shelves and in cases will offer visitors the opportunity to revel in the natural world in all its beauty and strangeness.

Unshelved, located on Level 2 next to Coast to Cactus in Southern California, is free for members and included with general admission.


This exhibition is made possible by the J.W. Sefton Foundation, Kathy and John Hattox, and the City of San Diego.



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