Return to Rightful Owner

Van Abbemuseum Library
04/09/2016 – 06/01/2017

Eva Olthof’s new installation Return to Rightful Owner invites visitors to consider the thin line between the private act of reading and the public space of a library. It combines ideologically loaded texts, frequently carved on monumental library facades, with the politics of forgetting, remembering and citing.

The starting point of the installation and her eponymous book is the complex political history of the American Memorial Library (Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek, AGB) in Berlin.
Founded in the 1950s, the library was a present from the US-American people to the citizens of West Berlin after the Berlin-Blockade. It was the first “open access public library” in Germany, where for the first time different sorts of literature were made available for the entire society.

Eva Olthof links here the observations she made during a research trip in 2015 to a number of public libraries in the United States (Boston, Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Detroit) with material from her book Return to Rightful Owner. Some of these libraries served as a source of inspiration for the American Memorial Library, which implemented the same ideological promises in West Berlin. In the United States these often monumental library buildings are frequently inscribed with texts on the façades referring to the creation of the American democratic state under the rule of law.


[1] Blue Proposal
Styrofoam / Modelling foam with inscribed text, dimensions ca 2418 x 10 x 25 cm

[2] Access – Entrance
Book scan in lightbox; 129 x 17 x 98 cm


[3] Free to all
Digital prints of scanned and photographed archive material and text in various dimensions – photo prints in various dimensions

Curated by Kris Dittel / Onomatopee.
Photography by Peter Cox

The exhibition is a collaboration between the Van Abbemuseum and Onomatopee.