Oberlin Blogs

Winter Art Rental: Extreme, but Worth It

February 13, 2016

Jules Greene ’19

Art Rental is a great thing. Not just because I, and the rest of the student body, have the opportunity to rent a piece of art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum that's either crazy old or made by some of my favorite artists for the price of $5 per work for one semester, but because it's something that people get genuinely excited about. That might sound obvious because there are Picassos at stake here, but personally, I love being in environments where the people around me are excited about something. In fact, when I visited Oberlin, my tour guide was asked the question of why he chose Oberlin, to which he replied with something along the lines of he wanted to be at a place where the students and faculty really loved what they were doing. I remember that resonating with me quite a bit, so I'm happy that my experience at Oberlin thus far has already reflected that in at least one way.

But back to art rental. Art rental in the winter time, meaning at the start of the second semester in February, is a much different story than the fall art rental in September. This year, the renters had to brave the "subzero temperatures" that the weather report was warning me about (I have no idea if it actually got down to the negative degrees including the windchill), all for the sake of ART. I had a pair of knee-high socks on under a pair of leggings, under a pair of corduroy pants, with winter boots, and then a turtleneck under a crewneck sweatshirt under an alpaca wool sweatshirt under my winter parka, plus a big scarf, hat, and gloves, as I left my room at 6:45 that morning to make a 7:00 check-in. Despite the extreme weather, there was a sizable turnout, about half as much as I recall being there for the fall art rental, which was huge, so I think what we can gather from that is how much art rental is a valued tradition by at least some of the students here.

Personally, art rental is significant for me because my first violin teacher also participated in art rental when she was a student here in the '40s, and I think it's great that an event such as art rental has held up all of these years. This might be because I'm a First-Year and don't know that much about the school yet, but it seems to me that Oberlin doesn't have that many school traditions (at least in comparison to the high school that I went to, that had quite a few), so it makes the ones that stick out as such all the more special.

With regard to the pieces I was looking for this round of art rental, I had a few things in mind. Last semester I was nowhere near the front of the line, and I walked out with a huge Claes Oldenburg print that was about three-quarters of my height and twice my width (needless to say, I got a friend to help me carry it back at the end of the rental period). This time, I wasn't so keen on getting a piece so massive that it was a major struggle to move it or even find a place to put it in my room. In addition to going small, I also wanted to get a piece by either Frank Stella or the recently deceased Ellsworth Kelly, as I find their work helpful to look at when organizing my thoughts. On a side note, their pieces would also compliment the Piet Mondrian magnet board that I have on my desk, which is an interior design plus.

Because I was at the front of the line this time, I had almost all of the art rental collection to choose from. When it was my turn to ascend the stairs of the museum to the space where the art rental pieces were laid out, I was at first a little overwhelmed with how much art I had to sift through to find what I was looking for! It isn't that I have a problem with sifting through things to find the gold, years and years of thrift shopping have given me the patience for that, it was just that, well, everything was gold in this case. I actually walked past a piece by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and was a little stunned for a moment--it isn't every day that you see a Toulouse-Lautrec just humbly sitting on the floor. But then I got to work, switching between the stacks of larger pieces and the smaller ones until I finally found a Stella. I was a little dismayed with how large the piece was, so, with a heavy heart, I had to move on. I then decided that whatever piece by Kelly or Stella I would run into first that also matched my preferences of scale would be the one I would go with.

Sure enough, I rounded the next corner, and in plain sight was a Kelly! This piece was smaller than the Stella and better suited to my small stature, so I picked it up and walked it over to the checkout area. As I clutched to the frame of the painting, I felt like the sun was shining inside of my chest in someplace warm like Los Angeles, amidst the bitter cold and snow of Ohio in February. After all, I first came into conscious contact (my parents have taken me to museums before my retinas were finished developing, since infancy, so I am not sure when I first saw a Kelly work) with Kelly's paintings when I was walking through LACMA, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, when I was fifteen. Gallery after gallery of his clean, geometric paintings passed by, and I knew I wanted to surround myself with them one day. Back then, I was convinced I'd end up at a big West Coast university like USC to pursue filmmaking as an undergraduate, so never would I have thought that a liberal arts college in Ohio that I ended up applying ED II to would someday make that happen.

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