Student Stories

The Student Lending Art Collection includes more than 700 framed original works of art, primarily prints and photographs by leading contemporary artists, which are made available to students each September to live with for the school year.

Students participating in the Student Lending Art Program proudly hang artwork borrowed from the collection in their private rooms and communal spaces. Hear from students about how the artwork impacted them and their living space. 

Interested in sharing your story about living with work from the collection? 

mitlistarts [at] (Contact Us )

2023–2024 Student Stories

Tommaso Salvatori

Tommaso is a graduate student in the Master of Business Analytics program at MIT. He’s currently researching how to leverage large language models for product recommendation, as well as how to consistently beat his friends at pickleball. 

Raymond Boisjoly
Clinamen, 2019

Purchased with funds from the Alan May Endowment

Can you tell me a little bit about the process of installing Clinamen?

It was actually very enjoyable. It was a bit longer and a bit harder than I thought it would be. You see the piece and you think that you can stencil it quite easily with the beer can, but actually, it takes a lot of work. It's delicate. You want to try and make sure all the sides and edges are pronounced. So I did spend quite a bit of time but it was a very enjoyable process. I'd have a bottle of wine with my roommate, put some music on, and we would just take turns stenciling the piece over three nights. I really enjoyed it throughout.

Do you think installing the artwork yourself increased your connection to the artwork?

Yeah, it did. It struck me the first time I saw it because you can't immediately tell what's going on at first sight. You don’t know exactly what's been written. You're almost lured into it to try and figure out what's happening. Once I read the message, “The way things fall together,” it really spoke volumes to me. I'd say I'm quite an optimistic person but I think, like everyone, you have moments where you think things are not going your way and to actually have this daily reminder that perhaps it's not falling apart, but it's falling together.

Since having this piece, have you learned anything new about the artist, Raymond Boisjoly? 

Yeah, so I did some research about him when I was putting up the artwork. I learned about Boisjoly’s representation of the ‘explanatory void’ with this piece from an interview of his. The idea that the description of something cannot truly produce its experience. It takes form everytime I bring a different friend over who, reading the same five words, will interpret it in their own, distorted way. It’s a piece where your personal experience is at the core of its understanding and why I’ve become quite affectionate with it!

Has having this piece in your apartment changed your appreciation and thoughts around professional artworks?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think this is not what you'd call the traditional piece of art - right? That's exactly what attracted me to it. I love the idea that when you see a piece of art, you share the artist's vision. But also by setting this piece up yourself, it's almost as if you're bringing a piece of your own vision to the artwork. So I love the fact that I could build it up myself at my house and it's almost quite literally ingrained in my wall now. Every day when I wake up, it's the first thing I see when I open my eyes, these letters falling on my face.

Carmelo Ignaccolo and Elena Militello

Carmelo Ignaccolo is a Ph.D. Candidate in Urban Planning at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. His scholarly work focuses on urban morphology, design politics, heritage, and technology. Elena Militello is a visiting scholar at the Harvard Center for European Studies and a faculty member in criminal procedure at the University of Messina (Italy). She is also the founder and president of the non-profit organization South Working.

Marc Chagall
Woman Juggler, ca, 1960-1964

Gift of Cynthia F. and Dr. Michael W. Weisfield (‘66)

What made you want to do the Student Lending Art Program again?

I’ve been such a big fan of this program since I came to MIT many years ago. This is my final year of PhD so this is a big year of transition. I think I got my first piece in 2018. If we don’t consider the pandemic hiatus, I have always been consistent in making sure I got a piece and I would say in the past two years we have gotten extremely lucky. This year was crazy special because of how it happened and then we ended up having a Chagall at home, which sounds kind of crazy. It’s something we always have jokes about when people come to visit because they can’t really believe that we have such a piece at home. 

Can you tell us the story about how you picked up Marc Chagall’s Woman Juggler?

The story of picking it up is hilarious because he was lucky enough to secure the first spot in the lottery, which we knew was 4 days after my due date. I went into labor on September 17th during the night, but it was mild, so I called the hospital on the morning of the 18th to ask the hospital if I should go in. I asked if I could wait a couple hours more because we had an appointment at 10 AM that morning to pick up the artwork. Carmelo drove there with me and my mom, and we waited outside of MIT Medical.

Then I walked in and I was first in line to enter. Elena had checked the gallery beforehand, so she gave me detailed instructions for where to find it because she really wanted it. So I entered and immediately turned right and she had told me “It’s a bit high but you can get it. You’re tall enough to get it.” So I managed to pick it, but I wasn’t able to take it home because it was raining. So on Friday, September 21st, we had the first pediatrician appointment and after that we walked with her to the gallery to pick up the piece. 

What made you choose this print?

We figured it was something very in line with having a newborn girl. It’s a woman juggler and, well, I’ve always loved Chagall - and she loves it! She stares at it for hours. She just lies on the floor and it’s very interesting because it is black and white, which is what newborns can only see. Now that she is starting to see all the colors, she is starting to figure it out.

We like to think that she really made us juggle since the beginning. We even put it in our cards to announce the birth of our daughter. We shared this story because it is so unique and it became part of our own family history. It's something we really enjoy sharing and speaking about. 

How did you come to be a fan of Marc Chagall? Is he someone you have followed closely?

Well, I remembered him because in Italy you study art history in high school for 5 years. We were exposed to all the famous painters, I would say. But, I remember clearly, the father of my best friend who introduced us to Chagall which has some hard things, some hard symbology too. I just find that there are so many layers. This one in particular, is of course lithography, but you see several sketches that he did before actually focusing on the subject, you see several faces, and this concept of the upside down. 

I will say that when Elena had shared her interest in this piece, the only part that I was partially concerned about as an architect is that it was a bit too small for this wall. So I was like, “Mmm, we might need something slightly bigger,” but then she was really into it so I decided I am going to go for it.

And of course you can’t put anything else next to it, right? 

Andrew Blair

Andrew is a second year master’s student in Mechanical Engineering at MIT. His research is focused on bioinspired structurally colored materials. Andrew is a musician and avid birder, and can be found most happy behind a drum set or in the mountains with a pair of binoculars.

Olivier Mosset
Hoodie, 2009

Purchased with major funding from a special allocation from the Council for the Arts at MIT in honor of its 40th anniversary

How did you hear about the Student Lending Program?

A friend of mine who is an exhibiting artist, Clint Baclawski, told me that his piece was in it and that I should sign up for it. He has this colorful piece and he was telling me, “My piece is in it and you should sign up for it.” So I did right away.

What drew you to Hoodie?

When I was doing the tour and I first passed this, my immediate reaction was, “Wow, this is terrible - I hate this.” I kept circling and it kept pulling me in every time I passed it and I would look directly in the center. It did this sort of fuzzy thing to my brain and I was wondering why it kept drawing me in. Then, I had been there for maybe 15 minutes, so I just sat on one of the benches and meditated in front of it. I figured if I am going to have something in my place, I would rather have it be something that has an effect on me, rather than something that just looks nice. Some of my work looks at photoreceptors and how our eyes respond to particular light, and thinking about the way the light off each of these panels would interact with our eye photoreceptors is pretty interesting. Every single time I would walk into the apartment I would look directly into the center eye of it and it does something funny to my brain.

Why did you initially hate this piece?

The colors. The contrast between the colors is something that is really offensive to me. It is so simple compared to so many of the other pieces in the gallery. I was initially thinking that there are some really nice illustrations and elaborate paintings and photographs, and this felt kind of disrespectful, but I think that is really intentional and interesting.

Now that you’ve lived with it for a while, how has your perception of the piece changed since you first picked it off the wall?

Now it feels natural to be in this space. This is an apartment that I have been in for, coming on, two years, and I have seen three other people live in the apartment other than me and the current roommates. So it’s a constantly evolving space, this feels like an icon for this time period. It feels like it is part of the space now for this period. 

How has your relationship with art changed since participating in this program?

My fiancé and I put art on our registry just broadly as a thing and I don’t think I would have considered it before this, simply because I went to the gallery and I picked the work. So many of these other things in the apartment had been left behind, like that piece was a gift and that piece was from the roommate before… Some of these things were left behind as throw-aways or were functional bulletin boards or my own pieces that I asked for. Having the opportunity to go into a space and say “Oh, I like that. I want that.” gave me the experience of selecting. The biggest change is just being open to the possibility of having art in my own space.

Sonia Kekeh

Sonia is a first year undergraduate student in MIT’s AeroAstro Department. She is currently working with Dr. Wood in the Media Lab to research African space agencies and their policies. In her spare time, Sonia enjoys making new playlists on Spotify, reading poetry, watching reality dating shows, and exploring the city and trying new foods with her friends.

Glenn Ligon
A Crowded Field (reversed), 2021

Purchased with funds from the Alan May Endowment

What made you decide to choose Glenn Ligon’s A Crowded Field (reversed)?

I actually wasn’t selected for the initial lottery, so I went to the Second Chance. There was a limited selection left, so I was walking around the gallery so many times just trying to figure out what I wanted and I just kept coming back to this one. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I think that is why I wanted to learn more about it. I started looking up Glenn Ligon and I saw some of his other works. I thought it was really cool and that it would fit well in my space. 

What is it like to have an original piece of art in your living space?

I think it is really cool. When I tell people, I don’t think they understand what I am saying when I say this is an original artwork, but it is a very unique opportunity that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Have you had any memorable moments with this artwork?

I took a class last semester and it was called Writing about Race. I procrastinated the final project really hard so I ended up using this piece as part of my project; detailing my experience

getting the piece and other people coming into my room and seeing it. How their different interpretations reveal something to me about their identity. I was able to spin it to work for my semester project. 

Since you’ve had this piece in your living space for a year, what has been your interpretation of it so far?

I think it's different people, so that is why it is called a crowded field but that it is also reversed. Maybe it has something to do with the coloring where the dark is the people and the light is the space between them. I don’t know. I still can’t really say.

Do you have any other comments you’d like to share?

I would definitely recommend the Student Lending Art Program to anyone who wants to. There is no harm in trying and I really appreciate the Second Chance opportunity because that came in clutch for me, obviously. Every year you can try and get something new. I am excited to try again next year.

Nicolas Valayannopoulos

Nicolas is a first-year undergraduate student in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics. In his free time, Nicolas competes on the MIT Men’s Fencing team and enjoys art in all its forms, whether it be jamming on the guitar or exploring Boston’s many art exhibitions and installations. 

Todd Lim
The Yellow Race, 1993

Gift of the Albert and Vera List Collection (Vera G. List)

What has been your favorite part about having Todd Lim’s The Yellow Race in your living space?

I think it has always been a really funny team exercise to get it up and down. It’s drawn a couple of my friends in. It built community in a way because within a week of me being here, I had to ask some people to help me put it up, like “Stand back. Let me know if it's straight.” It’s been nice being able to connect with people by virtue of having to put this up. I’d always send this text that said, “I have a really expensive, really important piece of art and I can’t mess this up. I need your help.” It started a good amount of conversations, so I am very happy with that. 

What are some of the questions you’ve been asked about this print?

Number one is “Where did you get it?” Secondly, is “What does it mean?” I am in my tenth or eleventh year of Mandarin so obviously the characters on the right, they all correspond to the little pieces. But I just really liked it. I thought it was really interesting, so people ask me, “What’s that language?” “Do you understand what it means?” It starts a conversation, sometimes about my high school, my studies in mandarin, things like that. It always sparks something and I like that. I like that people can ask questions and we can talk.

What is your interpretation of the piece?

I’ve thought about this a lot. People have asked me “What are your thoughts on this?” Some people say, “Oh, well it's the four senses.” Well, we are missing one of them, but four senses. 

That was my first interpretation. Like what are the ways we interpret stimuli? The title is The Yellow Race by Todd Lim. I did a bit of reading about the artist and I wanted to know where this piece was from. I really like art, but usually where I get stuck is coming up with my own interpretation of it. I like it when I get to hear what the artist has to say and I can be like, “Ohh, now I can see that.” It was kind of a call to the features he saw in himself that are important. This is one of the ways that he said you can recognize most people, by the shape of their nose, their eyes, their ears, their mouth. It gives an identity to the room. As if the room itself had an eye, a nose, an ear, and a mouth and I recognize my room by this piece of art that is giving the room a face.

Has your relationship with the arts changed at all since living with this artwork?

I would previously frame things that I had and I would think of them as cool little things, but I didn’t really think about the process behind it. So whenever I see this I am always reminded that, wow, someone took the time to put this together and it's a bit more than just a printed poster that is industrially made. I would say I am more interested in seeing if I can get more professionally made art, rather than printouts now after having had this in my room.