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  • Rainey Knudson

Art Rental Service (268 words)

In his essay for the book Art and Activism*, the art historian William Camfield mentions in passing a program at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (then the Contemporary Arts Association, or CAA) back in the 1950s:

One popular feature... was the annual Art Rental Service, a juried exhibition that simultaneously benefited regional artists and cultivated collecting by providing a way for people who had never owned an artwork to savor the experience for a modest rental fee with the option to purchase or try another.

I wish someone would bring this back. Renting out art is problematic, sure. There's a reason so many art rental startups come and go—it's a hassle, it's not a great moneymaker, and there's always a danger of theft or damage. But wouldn't it be fun if a nonprofit revived this program? God knows there's a glut of art out there that needs homes.

It would have to have the right spirit. The eternal question of Who Gets In couldn't be stuck-up and strangulated; nor could it be a no-barriers-to-entry free for all. You could make it online-only, but it would be even better if people had to come in person to get their piece. You could have regular "come shop the stacks" in-person events. The main thing is that it would be by and for locals. People who live in a community looking in their own backyard. Seeing the shit in person. Making art fun.

Sure, I see the problems a mile away. I can smell the burnout just thinking about it. But—how fun, how joyful, if it could work.

Bill's Junk booth at the CAMH "No Zoning" exhibition, 2009

*William Camfield, "Two Museums and Two Universities: Toward The Menil Collection," from Art and Activism, published by The Menil Foundation, 2010.


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