Introduction to Art Rental: A First-Timer’s Experience

Nicole Gutman

I had never participated in Art Rental before, but I wanted to give it a try. Before I started at Oberlin I met College junior Brenna Larson who, when we met for dinner, told me about Art Rental. The big thing she mentioned was the list. Most people come to the museum the night before Art Rental begins to get a good spot on the list. If you leave the courtyard, they will take your name off that list and put you at the bottom when you come back. Not that being at the bottom is a terrible thing — you’d just end up with whatever’s left.

This little fact worried me, as I’m not one to stay up until 2 a.m. I asked a friend from my dorm if she wouldn’t mind waking me up and taking me to the museum. She said she wouldn’t. Later that day she asked me if I was absolutely sure people were going to sleep out in the cold until 1 or 2 a.m. I said I was sure. After all, not every museum lets you rent valuable art for $1.25 per month.

Around 7 p.m. the night before, I was at the intersection of West Lorain and North Pleasant Streets. Chabad was down the road. I then remembered that Shabbat doesn’t start until 7:30 p.m. I decided to go inside the Art Building during the half hour I had until dinner. When I walked in, there she was: Brenna, back from her semester in Florence. She told me that she and everyone else on the list were spending the night inside the back of the museum.

The Night Before

I was so excited that I didn’t have to wake up at one or two in the morning or sleep outside in the cold. After my dinner at Chabad, I rushed to my dorm, got a blanket and pillow and rushed off to the museum to put my name on that list.

It was 9:30 p.m. when I arrived. I was 36th on the rent list. Some people had spent most of the day there. Brenna told me that one of her friends had been there since 11 a.m, in the hopes of having the best chance of getting a piece in the collection she really wanted. Some were there for a certain piece. Some were looking for a certain artist. Some didn’t even look at what was up for rent until they arrived at the museum.

There were six other people in the hallway I was settling into. They were all mostly doing homework. Later that night a couple of them were watching TV on their computers. There was a group of people downstairs playing Settlers of Catan. Others were hanging out or having small parties. There was one person I heard singing and playing his guitar.

I was so glad I didn’t wait until 1 or 2 a.m. to go to Art Rental. The people who did get there at that time were in the 80s on the list. For the rest of the night, more groups of people trickled into the building every now and then.

By midnight, my Art Building hallmates and I were all asleep.

The Big Day

We were awake by 7 a.m., an hour before Art Rental started. I could barely walk through the halls, because they were covered with people still sleeping. After that night, I realized there were two things I should have brought: a hair brush (my hair was messy in the morning, as usual) and a second blanket (sleeping on the hard floor was less than comfortable).

When the time came for the distribution of the art, the people gathered into groups of five. If every group was given 10 minutes to pick out art, my group’s turn would probably come at around 9:10. I decided to wait until eight to go outside for the start of Art Rental.

While I was waiting, there were four people near me who were talking about what Art Rental was like last semester. It was crazy, they said. It was as if everyone was only there to shout at each other. People lay down to sleep in the order that they appeared on the list. Some fought over where they were supposed to be according to that list. It already sounded like an Oberlin legend.

By 8 a.m. the security guard announced that Art Rental had begun. Every time five people went inside there would be shouts as if those five were heading into a ball game. I thought that each of the groups would be given 10 minutes. Instead, they were given little over five minutes.

While I was waiting my turn, I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation from a group next to me. One of them told the others that she and two of her friends decided to sleep outside last night. College junior Regina Larre Campuzano told me, “My two friends wanted to be the heroes of Art Rental. They had this hilarious thought that if everyone thinks in the spirit of Art Rental they would sleep outside and if everyone saw us outside in the morning they would give up their spot. We were numbers 81, 82 and 83 on the list. But no one was going to give up their spot anyway. So, at five in the morning when it was getting cold and snowy we were like, OK, no one’s going to give up their spot, this is dumb, we’re getting sick, let’s go inside.”

Around 8:30, it was my group’s turn to take some art home. I wasn’t able to find all the art I was excited about except “Beach House” by Alex Katz and “Eve” by James Janicek. I did find a watercolor painting by Alan Campbell called “Morning Light,” appropriate given the circumstances. I decided I was only going to rent one piece, and it was going to be one of those three. I chose the Campbell. They wrapped the painting in plastic, gave me a card to sign and I was ready to go.

I can’t believe I have what would normally be in a museum in my own room for a whole semester. It felt like a reward for spending the night in the museum. However, despite having to sleep on the floor of a hallway, it was actually a lot of fun. I would recommend that everyone participate in Art Rental at some point during their Oberlin careers. An opportunity like this doesn’t exist anywhere else.