Biennial Exhibitions News USA

Like a work? Get it on loan

Pittsburgh residents can now borrow art from their local library, thanks to the Carnegie International show

Borrowing art is good, but how big are the fines if you don’t return it on time?

As its contribution to the Carnegie International (5 October-16 March), the exhibition of contemporary art that is held by Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art every four or five years, a Pennsylvania art collective called Transformazium has created a programme to lend art via a library in a local town.

The Carnegie Museum contributed $30,000 to the project in June, and 28 of the 35 artists in this year’s show—including Taryn Simon, Vincent Fecteau and Wade Guyton—have donated works to the Braddock Carnegie Library. On 4 October, the library is due to unveil a permanent collection of more than 100 prints, paintings, photographs and sculptures that members can take out on loan for up to six weeks at a time.

“It’s amazing how many artists gave us original work,” says Ruthie Stringer, who formed Transformazium in 2007 with fellow artists Dana

Bishop-Root and Leslie Stem. Nineteen artists who are not part of this year’s exhibition, including Cory Arcangel and Paul Ramirez Jonas, also donated works to the project.

A handful of libraries have developed art-lending collections over the past decade, but most are affiliated with universities or located in populous, affluent communities. The Braddock Carnegie Library, by contrast, serves the 2,900 residents of Braddock, 40% of whom live below the poverty line, according to the 2010 census, as well as 16,000 people from surrounding municipalities.

Transformazium plans to meet library administrators after the venture has been open for six months to “run the numbers and figure out what is circulating, and how often”, Bishop-Root says. The group expects there to be between 300 and 500 loans within the first year.

Transformazium was inspired to develop the collection after the success of a previous project at the library—a print shop that opened in 2009. “It gets more people in the door, and when they get here, they realise they want to take something home,” says Vicki Vargo, the library’s executive director. The lending library is an opportunity to expand “the deep art discourse that is already happening here to a wider audience”, Stringer says.

For participating artists, the lending library offers “an opportunity to think about value outside the art market, which can be a pretty confusing and arbitrary system”, Bishop-Root says. “In this context, value is entirely dependent on how many people want to borrow the work.”

Sealing the deal

Most of the Carnegie Museum’s $30,000 contribution was used to renovate a room in the library to create storage space for the collection. Donations from local foundations and individuals made up the rest of the first-year operating budget of $78,000, which will go towards framing, installing an art rack, insurance costs and hiring staff who can discuss the collection during library hours.

Each work is stamped with a seal on the back to show that it belongs to the library, and Transformazium expects library members to treat the art with the same respect they would a book. “People feel a tremendous amount of responsibility bringing art into a domestic space,” says Dan Byers, a co-curator of the Carnegie International. “We spend so much time trying to protect works. Now we’re just sending them out into the world.”

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