Bringing the museum home

Renting out art to has been a tradition since 1934 at the U

Liv Martin

Hudson Walker, a Harvard-educated art collector and historian, was christened the first curator of The Little Gallery on the University of Minnesota’s campus in March of 1934.

What began as the Little Gallery grew into a big gallery: what we now know as our beloved campus museum, Weisman Art Museum. 

Hudson and his wife Ione were not in Minneapolis long before they left for New York City to establish another gallery.

Still, the Walkers began a long tradition at WAM of lending art to students that continues today. 

On Wednesday, the WAM Collective hosted its annual “Homework Art Rental Launch Party” at the museum.

The Collective reserved 45 artworks specifically for students from their larger 1200-piece rental collection. Students could choose from a variety of different works – including drawings, paintings, and prints – at $15 a piece for the semester. Another 850 works from the rental collection have already been rented out, mostly by university faculty and departments. University students and staff can rent any piece of art from the rental collection. 

And, they might want to. According to Laurel Darling, a senior studying English and Art History, the collection has some real gems. “There’s a piece of Abraham Lincoln that’s blurred but if you go up close, it’s a naked woman,” she said. Darling has been an active member of the WAM Collective since her freshman year.

At the event, students filtered in throughout the evening, which was hosted in conjunction with WAM’s monthly study night. Twenty pieces of art in total went to new homes by launch party’s conclusion, and each student had their own reason for choosing their artwork.

Junior Denise Lauj, a Geography and GIS major, came to the event with a purpose. She just moved into a new apartment in Stadium Village.

“I wanted to get something for my room because I’ve heard from a lot of people that’ve come over that it looks like I don’t live there because it’s not homey at all,” she said.

Lauj has been working to spruce up the place and getting a piece of fine artwork was the finishing touch she needed. She chose “Seefeld in Tirol,” (1958), a woodcut on paper by artist Hans Kobinger that illustrates a calming forest scene in black and white. 

Keerthi Manikonda, a freshman studying Neuroscience came for the free coffee at WAM’s study night and left with a piece of fine art.

Manikonda was checking out the rental art on display with her study buddy when they landed at Sister Mary Corita Kent’s 1969 color screenprint “In Touch.” It was one of the largest works on display at the launch party, with eye-catching pink and red florals on a black background. 

“My friend Kate, she literally went ‘That screams Keerthi.’ I got it because apparently it is very like my personality,” she said. “It’s kind of angsty but at the same time it has this sort of elegance to it… which kind of describes me in a way. I’m still in my teenage angsty phase but there are times when I can be really mature.”

Manikonda says she’s going to hang the work in her dorm room at Centennial Hall with command strips.

WAM had her covered, because they sent each rented piece of art home with supplies to mount it on a wall. WAM Collective members Madalyn Johnson, Ricky Ford and Alex Cain were busy packing up the art so that students could safely transport it home.

“There’s been less than 5 [artworks] that have been damaged since 1934,” said Katie Covey, the Director of Student Engagement at WAM.

In addition to hanging supplies, students are given a document that outlines what will happen if the art is damaged or the student fails to return it to the museum. The rental period lasts for one semester, and students could be charged a fee of $100 if their art is not returned on time. Damages are assessed on a case-by-case basis. For insurance reasons, “none of the works are valued more than $500,” said Stuart Deets, a PhD student in the Art History department and WAM’s Program Assistant.

However serious the consequences may be for damaging part of the collection, it never deterred Hudson Walker or WAM from lending art to students.

“The collection is to be lived with and experienced as part of your home in your life. So, it goes in peoples’ homes with the understanding that it’s going to be part of their every day,” said Covey.

Angad Cheema, a freshman biomedical engineering student already had decided on a specific place in his room for his artwork before he came to the launch party.

Cheema chose Edith Carlson’s “#438 (Desert Light series)” (1981) for its simplicity, he said. Carlson’s minimalist work showcases the color orange. The piece of art, created using colored pencil on paper, is going to live in his Sanford Hall dorm room during this semester, between posters he got at the poster fair in Coffman.

Cheema left the “Homework Art Rental Launch Party” with his work of art, but also a mission.

“Now I have to figure out who Edith Carlson is,” he said.