Weisman shares art for fun but not profit

Students can rent up to three art pieces for $12 a piece per semester.

Katie Covey, Weisman Art Museum employee and a recent University of Minnesota graduate, showcases art available for rent to students and employees at the Weisman on Monday.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Katie Covey, Weisman Art Museum employee and a recent University of Minnesota graduate, showcases art available for rent to students and employees at the Weisman on Monday.

Evelina Smirnitskaya

On his first day as president, Eric KalerâÄôs office walls were blank âÄî the only space devoid of move-in clutter. The artwork he and his wife Karen handpicked from the Weisman Art MuseumâÄôs archives had not yet been delivered.

The Weisman offers its pieces to University of Minnesota presidents for display in their office and Eastcliff mansion, the presidentâÄôs home. But the opportunity to hang original paintings on living room walls is not extended just to the UniversityâÄôs leader.

For almost 80 years, students and faculty have been renting artwork from the museum as part of the program. From 25-cent reproductions in the 1930s, it grew into a 1,100-piece original art assortment available to anyone within the UniversityâÄôs community for a small fee.

A student can rent up to three art pieces for $12 a piece per semester. An employee can rent up to five pieces for $40 each a year. University offices, like the regentsâÄô office in McNamara Alumni Center with 13 pieces, have no limit.

Katie Covey, a recent University graduate, has worked at the WeismanâÄôs store but has been renting prints and paintings since her freshman year.

âÄúIt was so cool to be able to rent real art,âÄù she said. Covey now works for the Weisman, archives full time and still rents out pieces.

The Kalers get their art for free and straight from the museumâÄôs collection since the presidentâÄôs office and Eastcliff are considered public University space and meet the requirements of museum-approved security and climate control, said Erin Lauderman, a museum spokeswoman, in an email.

The couple chose the pieces over two visits to the Weisman in late June. Their picks included pieces by artists with Minnesota connections.

Karen Kaler, who has worked as a graphic designer, called the WeismanâÄôs collection âÄúfabulousâÄù in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

âÄúIn the newly renovated museum, the community is in for a real treat when it reopens,âÄù she said. The museum holds architectâÄôs Frank GehryâÄôs work, of which Eric Kaler is a long-time fan, the first lady of the University said.

The art for the community at large is a little less extravagant. Renting out mostly prints, with some paintings and photographs, the program works on an honor system. Participants sign a rental agreement in which they promise to take care of the artwork and return it on time. But the pieces are not insured, and no deposit fee is required.

Sometimes pieces go missing, in which case the renter must pay the full price of the painting. For that reason the museum rents out only pieces worth less than about $1,000, said Lyndel King, the WeismanâÄôs director and chief curator.

Some more valuable pieces are reserved for University employees. Covey said some artwork has been pulled from the program because its value rose as the artists gained prominence.

The museum doesnâÄôt offer an online catalogue, so students and employees get to choose from a vertical drawer of the framed works thatâÄôs kept at the back of the museum store. Since the museum is currently closed for renovations, those interested must make an appointment with the programâÄôs coordinator, Erin Bouchard.

The museum currently rents 700 pieces to 200 participants.

âÄúItâÄôs not a money maker,âÄù King said of the program, âÄúbut itâÄôs worth it.âÄù

The point is to make art more accessible in peopleâÄôs daily lives, King said.

ItâÄôs an unusual program, as few other university museums share art with the community so freely, King said. But she said the idea generates a lot of interest in art.

âÄúThere is anecdotal evidence of it. I had major collectors say their interest in art began from renting art as students.âÄù

Many faculty members rent art for their offices for years and ask to purchase the pieces when they retire, King said, but the program is meant for renting only.

CoveyâÄôs favorite piece is âÄúMr. PossumâÄù by Malcom Myers, a former University faculty member.

âÄúIâÄôm so in love with this piece,âÄù she said of the portrait of a possum in a teal blue jacket. âÄúIt makes me sad that IâÄôd have to give it up someday.âÄù