Weisman shares art for fun but not profit

The Weisman today
The Weisman Art Museum, when it was built in 1993, took the University of Minnesota's art collection out of the attic of Northrop Auditorium and planted it firmly on center stage of the campus, the river and the Twin Cities.
Image courtesy of Weisman Art Museum

By EVELINA SMIRNITSKAYA, Minnesota Daily

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - On his first day as president, Eric Kaler's office walls were blank - the only space devoid of move-in clutter. The artwork he and his wife Karen handpicked from the Weisman Art Museum's 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 president's home. But the opportunity to hang original paintings on living room walls is not extended just to the University's 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 University's 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 regents' office in McNamara Alumni Center with 13 pieces, have no limit.

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

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"It was so cool to be able to rent real art," 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 museum's collection since the president's 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 Weisman's collection "fabulous" in an email to the Minnesota Daily.

"In the newly renovated museum, the community is in for a real treat when it reopens," she said. The museum holds architect's Frank Gehry's 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 Weisman's 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 doesn't offer an online catalogue, so students and employees get to choose from a vertical drawer of the framed works that's kept at the back of the museum store. Since the museum is currently closed for renovations, those interested must make an appointment with the program's coordinator, Erin Bouchard.

The museum currently rents 700 pieces to 200 participants.

"It's not a money maker," King said of the program, "but it's worth it."

The point is to make art more accessible in people's daily lives, King said.

It's 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. "There is anecdotal evidence of it. I had major collectors say their interest in art began from renting art as students." 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.

Covey's favorite piece is "Mr. Possum" by Malcom Myers, a former University faculty member.

"I'm so in love with this piece," she said of the portrait of a possum in a teal blue jacket. "It makes me sad that I'd have to give it up someday."

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Information from: The Minnesota Daily

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)