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Art Rental Still Going Strong After 60 Years

At the beginning of each semester, students line up in droves outside the Allen Memorial Art Museum's north gate, waiting for their chance to rent an original etching by Renior or a lithograph by Picasso. Yes, that's right – Picasso. Renior. Lichtenstein. Chagall. Pollock. Warhol. For just a $5 rental fee, students can adorn their dorm rooms with works by these and many other famous artists. 

"There's just something so unbelievable about being close to all this great art," says Johanna Valente '09, a first-time renter. "It's definitely an intense experience."

Oberlin's Art Rental program began in the 1940s, when art-world luminary Ellen Johnson, late professor of art history at Oberlin, decided that living with art "would develop the aesthetic sensibilities of students and encourage ordered thinking and discrimination in other areas of their lives." Since then, the program has grown in popularity; students often camp outside the museum to be first in line for the big day.

Jaeda Coutinho '06 is a newcomer to the Art Rental program.

"I'm trying to do this one time before I graduate," she says. "I'm not necessarily looking for something by a famous artist; I'd just like to find some pretty, colorful art."

Today the Art Rental collection includes 431 items, most purchased with proceeds from the rental program itself. Other items have been donated to the museum, including two of the collection's most recent acquisitions: a signed Chuck Close poster donated by Douglas Baxter '72 and a lithograph by Alexandre Lunios, Le Magasin des Nouveautes (Le Exposition du Bon March), donated by Lauretta Dennis.

Museum Registrar Lucille Stiger says Art Rental was an overwhelming success this year. "We rented all but three works on Thursday - and that was the first day of Art Rental."

So what drives students to wait in long lines, come rain or shine, and brave the ire of their classmates if they are lucky enough to rent a coveted masterpiece? Will Sheppard '08 sums it up simply: "Two days and 10 bucks is a pretty sweet deal in exchange for some great art to hang on your walls."


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Photo by Rebecca Lammons '06

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