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Return to Rightful Owner

Onomatopee 116

Solo Project by Eva Olthof at the Van Abbemuseum’s library


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.

Olthof combines ideologically loaded texts, carved on 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. This was the first American style “open access public library”, founded in the 1950s as a gift to the inhabitants of West Berlin, where for the first time different sorts of literature were made available there for every layer of the society.

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


Eva Olthof 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. Currently she is working on a follow-up project in Yogyakarta: a radio project on the Merapi volcano.



4th September, 2016 - 6th January, 2017

FINISSAGE - Exhibition reading
Thursday, January 5, 16:00 - 17:00



Onomatopee 116, Eva Olthof, 2015

Return to Rightful Owner

€ 17

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Eva Olthof’s book takes as it’s starting point the American Memorial Library in Berlin (Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek), which opened in 1954, and two books, which were returned after 50 years, accompanied by a handwritten personal letter. The library was a gift from the American people to the population of West Berlin after enduring the Berlin Blockade, promoting the “illimitable freedom of the human mind”, as it reads in a quote on the library’s wall from US President Thomas.

The book brings together the charged political history of this library, and the recent events connected to the revelations of NSA files by Edward Snowden.

Contributions by Doreen Mende, Eva Olthof, Eben Moglen
Graphic design: Stefano Faoro
Made possible thanks to the supprot of the Mondriaan Fonds, Stichting Niemeijer Fonds, Stichting Bekker-la Bastide-Fonds and Harten Fonds




150 x 240 mm / 5.9 x 9.4 inches
Eva Olthof
Doreen Mende, Eva Olthof, Eben Moglen
Stefano Faoro
Eva Olthof
thread sewn with cover drawn on
Hello mat hv mc 250 gr (cover) and Luxo Art Samt 115 gr (inside)
inside: all black. Cover: first impression in 2 PMS colours + allover gloss sealer varnish backing up 1 PMS colour
Lecturis, Eindhoven (NL)
Kris Dittel
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