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The Perfect Use for the Lottery

The Artothek in Bonn, GermanyAn item on the news from France 2 tonight (no information available by Internet yet, but you can watch the broadcast here, if you follow the links for France 2, Journal de 20h, February 2) introduced me to a really cool concept, which someone should implement here in Washington. The piece was about the Artothek in Berlin, a sort of lending library for actual works of art. For a nominal subscription fee of 50 euro centimes (62¢) per month, you can take home six sculptures, paintings, or engravings for a period of 6 months. When you return your six items, you can take out six more. The works shown are not multimillion dollar pieces, to be sure, but there was a small Rodin piece, a Warhol painting, and small works by Delaunay, Braque, and many others. How is this possible, you ask? Well, when anyone in Berlin does not claim a prize in the national lottery, the money goes into the fund to support the Artothek, and they can buy things to put on the shelves. The report showed people thumbing through racks of sealed artwork, while librarians dissuaded people from "looking for names" and just choosing art that took their fancy. At the end of the report, it showed the Andy Warhol painting that was going home that day with the France 2 cameraman. They also use some of their budget to buy the work of local artists, which is a nice way both to support the regional art market and acquaint living artists with possible future buyers. I love this idea, and I think one of the presidential candidates should leap at the opportunity to propose funding this in the United States.

According to their Web site, one such Artothek (possibly the one featured in the France 2 report?) is an arm of the Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin (the Berlin central and federal state library). It was created in 1968, and its collection focuses on modern and contemporary art, with the goal of stimulating interest in modern art among Berliners. In addition to 1,200 actual works of art, there is a library of 2,000 art prints for study purposes, which can also be borrowed. Another article (Rent a Picasso, by Julia Ucsnay, for WDR) mentions several variations on this sort of institution around Germany, sometimes connected with municipal or regional libraries, sometimes run as small museums or as rental companies primarily for businesses. I found some information in Dutch on artotheks, so I'm guessing this phenomenon exists in the Netherlands, too.

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