Art to Live With
This past school year, I lived with my very own Pablo Picasso. The work, titled "Dreams and Lies of Franco I" ,was one of 75 offered to University of Chicago students through the Art to Live With program.
Art to Live With is a lending program hosted by the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago. The program loans 75 pieces of art from the museum's collection to college students living in dormitories for the duration of the academic year at no charge.
This program has quite an interesting history, but as that has been more thoroughly covered by other articles, this post will focus mostly on what it was like to actually live with the art. That history, and pictures of all the pieces can be found here on the museum's website.
First, a bit about the artwork. Picasso made this series of two prints in the time leading up to his work "Guernica", and some similar stylistic elements are definitely present in the work itself. The piece is an aquatint, a printmaking technique similar to that of etchings. There are two versions of the work, one version is hand signed, and one machine signed. Mine was the machine signed work and is one of 890 prints made by Picasso.
I should probably mention how I chose this piece. It was during my second week at UChicago, and after a long day of biking around the city with Dean Boyer, I rode past the museum on the way back to my dorm. I was very tired, and was planning on the first group of students already having set up camp outside the door. I was then going to just go back to my dorm, and come back around 4am. But, when I went past, I noticed that no one had arrived yet. Consequently, I walked over and sat down next to my bike to claim my spot at the head of the line. Thankfully, a friend of mine was kind enough to bring me a blanket, a thermos of tea, my computer, and my pillow so that I could get as comfortable as was possible on the cold cement patio.
Over the course of the night, the students all agreed to allow short breaks back to the dormitories, as long as you weren't caught napping, and by the time 8am rolled around, I had been waiting for eleven and a half hours. After choosing my work, I went back to my dorm to sleep, but still ended up catching a bad case of the flu and missing an entire week of school. Admittedly, my immune system was extremely weak for the rest of the first term. I'm not sure if it had anything to do with waiting outside all night, but even if it did, I have absolutely no regrets.
Now, onto my impressions. The most striking thing about the work to me is how quick people are to judge it, and perhaps even discredit it. Oftentimes they look at it, and due to its almost unfinished appearance, they write it off, especially in comparison to some of the other pieces on loan. Then, many students learned that it is one of close to 1,000 copies and this once again ruins its niche feel. In this way, many students who initially perk up at the mention of a Picasso are underwhelmed by the work itself.
I very much enjoyed it more due to all of the above reasons, rather than less, perhaps relating back to the year long daily sketch journal I kept while studying abroad in Hamburg. I have long been a fan of printed art, as I find it just as enjoyable and admire the way in which it broadens the amount of people who can experience the work, instead of idolizing a single piece and locking it away in a private gallery for a select few to see. This view perhaps also comes from my admiration of Japanese wood block prints. Nonetheless, I do recognize the limited scope of printed art, in the sense that it constrains the artist's options to some extent, and that many outstanding pieces are displayed in countless museums around the world for people to see. In any case, I definitely feel more strongly after living with this work that the notion of art as a commodity or a treasure is not one that I wish to support, and rather prefer to focus on the way art can impact everyone in varying ways.
Next year, the program will be returning for its second year in the current format. I'm hesitant to give away any surprises, but they added 7 new works this year, including a Murakami, and I am leaning towards going for one of the works by Max Ernst. We'll see come October if I manage to secure my first place spot again.
To be frank, I didn't actually spend much time just staring at the art itself. I hung it above my fridge, which is at the foot of my bed and directly behind my desk. Although I enjoyed how well it integrated into the rest of my room decor, I do wish I would have placed it somewhere such that I could gaze up at it while writing at my desk.
Of course, there were many interesting events that arose out of living with a Picasso. Some of the notable ones include:
–being interviewed by the Chicago Sun Times (a good match for UChicago, as it claims to be "the hardest-working paper in America")
–being featured on the front page of the University's student run publication, the Chicago Maroon
–meeting one of my earliest close friends in college, the second student in line (he was willing to forgive me for taking the work he also most wanted)
–serving as a topic of conversation on Skype interviews
As always, thanks for reading, and if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below :)
Photo is: Pablo Picasso | Spanish, 1881-1973 | Dreams and Lies of Franco I | 8 January 1937 | Ed. 288/890
I would be remiss to not mention the request of my friend in Germany, who asked me to place a postcard sized print he made above the Picasso info card:
It just so happened to work out, as I placed that card on the wall normal (perpendicular) to the actual Picasso.