Andrew Langford lives in a typical college dorm room: He has a desk, a single bed, a mini-fridge stocked with cookies, brownies, some booze and, on an otherwise drab beige wall, he has a framed Miro.
That’s right, the 18-year-old has a piece by the famed Spanish painter and sculptor, Joan Miro.
Noah Adams, 19, has a Pablo Picasso etching in his dorm entitled, “Dream and Lie of Franco 1.”
To be sure, these are not the originals — they’re prints — but many of the several dozen pieces on loan this year to mostly undergraduates at the University of Chicago are each worth several thousand dollars.
“It seems crazy they would be loaning these out to college freshmen,” said Adams, himself a freshman, considering a major in global studies. “That just seems like such a wild idea.”
Actually, it’s an old idea.
“This was a sort of long-ago, beloved thing for students who were at the University of Chicago, where they could borrow a work of art and have it live with them in their dorm room for a year,” said Alison Gass, director of the U. of C.’s Smart Museum of Art, the owner of the loaned artwork. “Then it became kind of defunct. Then we had a wonderful donor from the board of trustees who remembered the project fondly and gave us some money to start it up again.”
And so, at the start of this school year, dozens of students literally camped out overnight — outside — in hopes of securing one of the prints. Adams was first in line.
“I was there almost 12 hours,” he explained last week. “After the event, I ended up getting the flu and missing a whole week of classes.”
But now, for the whole school year, a print of a Picasso etching hangs above his refrigerator.
He said he was drawn to the piece because during his junior year in high school, he lived in Germany and carried a sketchbook with him.
“I really appreciated the raw artistic characteristics of a sketch-like work,” he said, before adding, “I would be lying if I said the big name [Picasso] didn’t have any influence on my decision.”
The artwork, which is insured, comes with some strings attached. Students sign a contract. They are given detailed instructions about hanging and caring for their pieces. Among the instructions: “Artwork may not be unframed or altered in any way” and “Give your artwork the social interaction it needs. It loves to be shown off to friends and parents.”
There’s nothing in the instructions forbidding a kegger in the presence of a Klee or a Kandinsky.
Langford, an economics major, says he’s had the occasional get-together in his room.
“I guess things in this dorm don’t get too terribly rowdy,” he said. “I haven’t foreseen anyone punching a hole through it.”
Gass says that, to the best of her knowledge, none of the works has been damaged.
“What everyone has seen overall is that students are surprisingly respectful of these objects,” said Gass, referring to her program and others at colleges around the United States.
“We do have some checkups that happen here and there,” she said.
When Adams first installed his Picasso, he invited others in his dorm to stop by and have a look.
“Personally, to me, it’s the most interesting thing in my room because it doesn’t come from my own life. It comes from someone else’s experience,” Adams said.
A few months on, the Picasso is kind of old hat for visitors to Adams’ room. His fellow college students are more likely to marvel at his voice-activated light switch.