art collector for a year.
In a few days, I could be the proud owner of a Rauschenberg. Or a Laurie Simmons. Or a Harold Edgerton photograph.
Okay, well, not quite an owner, more like a renter. Each year, MIT’s List Visual Arts Center lends original works of art to university students to hang in their dorms and apartments. From September 3 through September 15, the List is displaying over 500 prints and photographs by major modern and contemporary artists. Students are invited to peruse, select their top three works, and enter these choices into the student loan program lottery.
I find the loan model fascinating, upending the traditional notion of a collection and supporting a dynamic relationship between the art institution and its audience. First, the student loan program forges a strategic connection between the List and the university students. So often, it seems that university museums and galleries struggle to get students—the population that seems so plentiful on a campus—to engage with their rich collections. By lending works, the List carves out a space for itself in the hearts of the students, likely encouraging repeat visits in the future.
Additionally, collecting art is something generally in the realm of the privileged and monied. As a museum educator, I was lucky enough to look at art everyday, but could never imagine being able to afford one for my own home. For nine months, I’ll have the chance to live like the Broads and Gagosians of the world, eating my morning cereal underneath a work by a leading contemporary artist. (On a cynical note, the program could also be a strategy to foster the art collectors of the future. When MIT students go on to win Noble prizes and make their millions, perhaps they’ll become art collectors and patrons of the List.)
But what I’m most excited about is the loan program’s potential to change your relationship to the experience of an artwork, and all because of one element: time. Looking at a work over time changes how you see, allowing your relationship to the object and artist evolve and expand. Having a work hanging on your wall for nine months—it’s allows you to experience art in a way you never could within a museum.
And students certainly create strong bonds to these works of art. “I was flat-out ecstatic when I learned that Cindy Sherman would keep my company for a year,” one student wrote of the portrait he borrowed for a year. “I returned her to the List reluctantly.”
[Cindy Sherman portrait]
If you were wondering how in the world a university would entrust works of art to its students, here’s the nitty gritty. All of the works in the student loan collection are multiples—they are prints or photographs of which there are many of them in the world (which generally means they are less expensive). The works come framed and glazed—that is, they are covered in glass—and are insured, so that if they are damaged due to natural or unpreventable causes (such as an apartment fire), the student isn’t liable.
I’m looking forward to September 17, when we find out the results of the lottery. I also am interested to know which works and artists are most popular among the MIT crowd.
[I almost sprang for this Richard Artschwager print]