National WWII Museum

A rendering of what the Monuments Men Gallery slated to open in 2016 will look like. Visitors will wander inside the gallery meant to look like a salt mine. (National WWII Museum)

The little-known tale of the men and woman who saved priceless artworks during World War II comes to  the big screen when the film "The Monuments Men" opens on Friday. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett tell the story of how experts saved priceless masterpieces from destruction -- a story that will be memorialized in a gallery planned at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

"This gallery will be a journey into the heart of the greatest treasure hunt in history," Robert Edsel, museum board of trustee member, said in a statement. Edsel should know. He wrote the book "The Monuments Men" on which the film is based and several others that detail the courage of those who volunteered to save Europe's cultural treasures.

The museum has been developing a dedicated Monuments Men Gallery since 2011; it's scheduled to open in 2016. The plan is to take visitors through a reconstructed Austrian salt mine, one of the real locations where looted artworks were stashed by the Nazis.

Exhibits will focus on the experts from 13 countries who rescued works by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo and others, but also update visitors on what happened to the artworks after the war. Many of the pieces were returned to their rightful owners, some remain missing.

The Monuments Men Gallery has been funded by trustee members and will be housed in a new Liberation Pavilion planned for the museum. The pavilion will focus on the late months of the war and the postwar years. "Employing the latest technology, this final exhibit pavilion of the museum campus will convey the deeper meaning of what was at stake for America and the world in this epic conflict," the museum statement said.

The museum was dedicated in 2000 under a different name, the National D-Day Museum, which was later designated by Congress as the country's National WWII Museum.

Info: National WWII Museum, (504) 528-1944

Mary.Forgione@latimes.com
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