Return to Rightful Owner - Eva Olthof


Return to Rightful Owner Eva Olthof

04/09/2016 - 06/01/2017
library exhibition

The opening of the exhibition will take place on Sunday 4 September at 3 p.m.

The project is a collaboration between the Van Abbemuseum and Onomatopee
In the new installation Return to Rightful Owner Eva Olthof invites visitors to think about the thin line between the privacy of reading and the public space of a library. She combines ideologically loaded texts on the facades of libraries with the politics of forgetting, remembering and citing. The starting point of the installation and the eponymous book is the complex political history of the American Memorial Library (Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek, AGB) in Berlin. This was the first American style “open access public library”, founded in the 1950s as a gift to the inhabitants of West Berlin. For the first time different sorts of literature were made available there for every layer of the society . Its location, right on the border of East Berlin, was also aimed to attract the inhabitants of the Russian part of the city. Eva Olthof’s installation forms a link between memories of the American Memorial Library and the individual, and raises questions about privacy and freedom today.
This exhibition presents a new installation, which was created especially for the space of the Van Abbe library, together with materials linked to the publication.

New installation 

The new installation links the observations Eva Olthof 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. 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. The promises of free access to knowledge and information, literally shown on the façades of the libraries, are diametrically opposed to recent events in the United States. Edward Snowden could be put away as a traitor for sharing information which concerns that very democracy in America. These libraries served as a source of inspiration for the American Memorial Library, which implemented the same ideological promises in West Berlin.

The publication

The book Return to Rightful Owner was written when Olthof was working in the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin for a period in 2013-2014. A letter which she found in the archives of the American Memorial Library served as an inspiration for the book. In that letter a man describes the political and personal events between 1954 and 2000 which stopped him from returning the book. Together with five other texts and a series of photographs taken by Olthof, this letter was pivotal in Return to Rightful Owner. 

The book is for sale in the museum shop. 

Eva Olthof

Eva Olthof (born in Nijmegen in 1983) has been working on publications, installations and performances in which she examines the history of specific locations and events since 2010. She collects different sorts of images and texts in her fieldwork, archive work and photography, and then rearranges them to create a new installation. In the selection process serendipity, ambiguity and irony play an important role. Olthof lives and works in Rotterdam and graduated from the Dutch Art Institute in Arnhem. She worked as an artist in residence at CRAC Valparaíso, Chile and at Cemeti Art House in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Currently she is working on a follow-up project in Yogyakarta: a radio project on the Merapi volcano.


Kris Dittel / Onomatopee.

Opening hours

The exhibition takes place in the library, which is opened from Tuesday until Friday from 11.00 am to 5 pm. Weekends closed. Entrance to the library is free.