Oberlin Blogs

My Final Art Rental

February 27, 2021

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

Art Rental is a time-honored Oberlin tradition. It’s hard to believe that today I experienced my last one ever! While Art Rental was naturally different this year, I’m so glad this tradition could still happen. 

My first ever Art Rental was in Fall of 2019 (I wrote about it here). Art Rental is normally quite a different and festive affair. In a normal year, students huddle together at the crack of dawn in the courtyard of the Allen Memorial Art Museum in order to get their names at the top of the Art Rental list. There are three check-ins later that day in the evening to maintain your spot on the list, I believe at 8 pm, 10 pm, midnight, and 2 am, with each person allowed to miss up to one check-in. At the check-ins, all the students file into a large room in the art museum student gallery spaces, and the roll call begins. I think that year there was also a film screening for people who wanted to hang out the whole time, rather than come and go for the check-ins, as well as some snacks. Another time-honored Art Rental component is the costume contest judged at the last check-in at 2 am, where the winner earns the privilege to jump to the top of the list and get their hands on a coveted Picasso or Miró. Last year I think someone in my co-op won, as the Starry Night with a cutout Van Gogh as their accompaniment. Then, on the next morning, everyone assembles in roughly their numerical order on the list and file through a hallway. My first Art Rental was done with a dear friend, who supplied us with vegan cookie dough to fortify us for the long wait until we were finally able to enter the upstairs area of the Allen Art Memorial Museum where framed art pieces were lined up all around the upper level, in rows 2-3 works deep, where each student got maybe 10 minutes max to pick out a piece they wanted for the semester. Once you picked your piece, you sign your name on the slip in the back of the frame (kind of like checking out a library book with the physical card), pay your $5, get your art wrapped and are given some industrial strength command hooks, that's it! There you have it! A job well done.

For obvious reasons, assembling large crowds of people both in and outside and milling around to choose an art piece were not things we could do this year. But in some ways, I think Art Rental 2020-21 Edition was more accessible and perhaps more ~mysterious~ than it was in years past! This year, there was no need to get up early to try to get a top spot, and here’s why: on the day, I showed up at the Allen and got a slip of paper to sign up for the Art Rental program. Then, following the physical distancing spots on the floor, I went through the main part of the Museum, and up the stairs to the gallery on the second floor. When it’s your turn to pick an art piece, you approach a row of 5 different works, and get to choose one on a “take it or leave it” basis. That way, it’s random, so you have an equal chance of getting a Picasso whether you show up at 8 am or 2:30 pm. Each time a piece is replaced, you do get a new option, and you’re more likely to get something you wouldn’t necessarily pick on your own. And it’s free this year! I actually really like Art Rental done this way. There’s still an element of suspense, but I think it gets you out of your comfort zone and you’re able to end up with a super rad piece of art! 


Ruth and housemate in the rental line
Ruth and her housemate waiting in art line at the museum 


corner of the museum
a corner of the museum we saw while waiting in line


students waiting in line at art rental
students waiting in line at Art Rental


students picking art at Art Rental
students picking pieces at Art Rental: note the row of 5 in the green taped area


Last semester Art Rental was done in the way I described above, and I ended up with a very large print by Nan Goldin called "Suzanne and Philippe on the train, Long Island, 1985," which hung above the couch in my house’s living room for the entire semester. This semester, I ended up with a really new piece in the collection! The card on the back only had one name on it, meaning that I am only the second person, and the first person in 2021, to have this piece! It’s called "I Opened the Window…" and is a color woodblock print by Japanese artist Kozaki Kan, made in 1942. This is a perfect example of a piece that I don’t think I would’ve picked on my own, but when it was presented to me, it was my favorite option, and I actually really like it! I still need to find a good place for it in my room, but I am so happy with what I ended up with. 


fall 2020 Art Rental piece on couch
my Fall 2020 Art Rental print sitting on the couch before I hung it up


Spring 2021 Art Rental piece
Spring 2021 Art Rental piece: my print from this time around!


Participating in Art Rental one last time was on my Oberlin bucket list for the last semester, and I am so grateful to the college and the Allen Art Museum for keeping the tradition alive, even if it doesn’t look exactly like it used to. 

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