What if libraries could be known for checking out not just books and research materials, but works of fine art? Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich, a pair of UK-based artists, decided to find out.
The Art Lending Library, originally commissioned by Glasgow’s Market Gallery and created by Walker & Bromwich, is a series of crates fitted together, filled with donated works of art from living contemporary artists around the world. Anybody who walks in the libraries where the project is housed can sign out a work of art of their choosing, and the piece is crated up and shipped to their house for up to a week.
“The initial idea was to allow people to appreciate art and experience art in a different way,” Bromwich said. “Most people experience art by seeing it in galleries and exhibition spaces. We wanted to give the chance to experience art on a one-to-one basis in your home.”
The project was first shown out of Mitchell Library, one of Europe’s largest public reference libraries, as part of the Glasgow International Art Festival in 2012. In early May of this year, the library finished its second run, this time in the English town of Darlington. The artists involved told Library Journal they wanted to break through some barriers to give more people access to art.
“There have been a lot of cuts to the arts, and to libraries right now. So it’s actually kind of symbolic,” Walker told LJ. The project kicks off with a parade, where volunteers dressed as librarians and movers wheel the crates through town, gathering steam and interested attendees as they roll along on the way to the library. Their aim is to attract the widest range of people possible to come and see the art. At the heart of the project is the aim of bringing fine art into the lives of all who want to experience it, and a belief that libraries make an excellent tool for doing just that.
“One of the things that’s really inspired the project is the original idea of libraries as this egalitarian place,” Bromwich said. “In the past, only rich people had libraries with books in them. In a way contemporary art is like that now, it’s kind of an elitist thing.”
The project features over 60 works, many of which were crafted by artiosts from aroudn the United Kingdom, but also introduces patrons to international artists, featuring works from Colombia, Thailand, and Australia to name a few. The participating artists were paid just £50 (about $84 US) to provide their works for loan through the project, and because the art is valued so highly, obtaining insurance was an issue, meaning that artists who want to participate have to be willing to put their work in the hands of borrowers with a certain amount of risk
“Artworks are insured while they’re in the gallery and while in transit, but we couldn’t afford to cover to take it into people’s homes, so it’s a goodwill, trusting gesture,” Bromwich said.
So far, though, they’ve had no incidents of damage to the artworks, although one artist’s work, which was a jar filled with foreign currency, “mysteriously disappeared.”
“I think he was kind of asking for it with that one,” Bromwich laughed.
While the project has its roots in the UK, the artists and organizers involved are working to ensure that it branches out from there. Walker and Bromwich said a gallery in Italy has expressed interest in bringing the Art Lending Library to that country, and they hope to see the project continue beyond that. Similar efforts are already underway in a number of cities across the US including efforts in Minneapolis and through Chicago’s Hull-House Museum.
“It’s really popular and people really like the idea,” Walker said. “I’m sure it’ll go somewhere else. It’s got…”
“Wheels?” Bromwich asked.
“Yeah,” Walker laughed, “it’s got wheels.”