In photos: Left, Romare Howard Bearden, “Three Women,” 1973 screen print, 28 1/4 x 21 inches, gift of Richard Liroff. Right: Henri Matisse, “Palme Blanche sur Fond Rouge,” 1978 lithograph, 20 1/8 x 15 7/8 inches, gift of Richard Levine.
This weekend, some Skidmore students will be revamping their dorm rooms with artwork by Pablo Picasso and Roy Lichtenstein.
As part of the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum’s “Roommate: Living with Tang Art Project,” 50 students will take home pieces of artwork from the museum’s collection for the entire spring semester.
“It started as an idea that all different kinds of people, including students have been suggesting for many years,” said Ian Berry, the Dayton director of the Tang.
Student art loan programs aren’t exactly a new idea. MIT has a long-running student art loan program, as does the University of Chicago and Williams College.
About two years ago, Berry started researching these programs to see how feasible it would be to start one at Skidmore. Then, in 2019, he worked with the Tang’s Student Advisory Council and hired Kelsey Renko to launch the program.
Sophomore Malchijah Hoskins was on the Council and recommended that organizers make the program as accessible as possible and ensure that there were a variety of works and artists represented.
“I feel like the art world is often clouded with a lot of misconceptions and I think this program is a way to de-mystify those misconceptions and make it more accessible and equitable to as many people as possible,” Hoskins said.
Berry sees the program as a way to extend the Tang’s exhibition space and an opportunity for students to interact with the artwork in a new way.
The 50 two-dimensional pieces that are available for students to borrow are on exhibition at the Tang and students are encouraged to walk through at some point this week to see what resonates with them.
“It ranges from very traditional things that a lot of people would know, like Picasso and Mattise, to pop art. There’s a Roy Litchtendstein and a Robert Indiana,” Berry said. The list also includes works by Ryan McGuiness, Shinique Smith, Salvador Dalí, Nan Goldin, Corita Kent, Malick Sidibé, Henri Matisse, Romare Bearden, and many others.
Students can come pick up the artwork starting at 9 a.m. on Sunday, though organizers are anticipating students will be waiting in line well before that, so they will open the museum doors at 6 a.m. for those who want to be among the first to take out a piece of artwork.
The works will be signed out on a first-come-first-served basis and each will come with an agreement (including information on when they will bring back the work), an instruction booklet of how to care and hang the piece and a notebook where students can write about their experiences with the work.
“We’re asking each student who borrows a work to at some point, or maybe even periodically throughout the semester, jot down some thoughts ... or responses to the artwork and to return that journal when they return the artwork. Our dream is that over the years if that same artwork stays in the loan program, there could be many different students writing their diverse responses to that artwork,” Berry said.
When asked about concerns for the condition of the works, Berry said that it’s not so much a concern as an opportunity.
“We see this as a way to extend the college’s museum into other parts of the college’s life. It’s making the museum, in a conceptual sense, bigger and entering into living spaces around campus. We feel like this is an agreement of trust, it shows that we trust our students. We are supportive of their abilities to handle artwork. We only expect great things to come from it.”
The pieces are covered under the Tang’s insurance, of course, it helps that students like Hoskins are cognizant of the value these pieces and the program have.
“Considering that the Tang has such an amazing collection, offering that to students is just great. This is going to be my only chance to have pieces of fine art with me in my life and I also think that this program sort of blurs the lines of what we consider or how we interact with art,” Hoskins said, noting that putting artwork of this scale in one’s home will hopefully demystify the sense that one can only interact with art in a museum setting.
He already has a spot on his wall where he’s hoping to put the borrowed artwork, whichever one it may be.
“I’m just going to go see what piece resonates with me the most because for me the wall that I’m going to be hanging the piece from is right across from my bed so every day I’m going to be waking up seeing this piece so I want to make sure it’s something that can invoke a spirit of gratefulness but also joy and mindfulness,” Hoskins said.
There will be a viewing party and reception for “Roommate: Living with Art” at the Tang starting at 6 p.m. tonight. The exhibit will be up through Saturday, as students will begin taking the artwork home on Sunday morning.
“These artworks can be catalysts for new conversations; sometimes maybe even uneasy conversations with their friends and their families and people they’re living with. Artwork has great power to bring people together [and create] conversation and we’re hopeful this will do that,” Berry said.