1. Education

On Closing the Rose Art Museum

By January 28, 2009

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Image courtesy of Brandeis University; used with permission

The first sentence of a press release issued January 27, 2009 by the Brandeis University Board of Trustees reads thusly:
    Brandeis University’s Board of Trustees today voted unanimously to close the Rose Art Museum as part of a campus-wide effort to preserve the university’s educational mission in the face of the historic economic recession and financial crisis. Board members stressed that the museum decision will not alter the university’s commitment to the arts and the teaching of the arts.
But wait, there's more:
    After necessary legal approvals and working with a top auction house, the university will publicly sell the art collection. Proceeds from the sale will be reinvested in the university to combat the far-reaching effects of the economic crisis, and fortify the university’s position for the future.
1. I am floored by the seeming lack of conscious irony throughout the press release. How could a decision to close an art museum AND sell its collection of over 8,000 items "not alter the university’s commitment to the arts and the teaching of the arts"? According to no less an authority than the Rose Art Museum website itself, "The Museum's permanent collection is used as a teaching resource and is available for scholarly use by appointment."

2. They'd better have some damned good lawyers to secure those "necessary legal approvals." If I had donated *restricted* gifts and/or endowment funds and/or most of the money towards building a wing in the Museum at any time within the past 48 years, I'd be on the phone with my lawyers right about now.

3. Clue for the Board of Trustees: the "far-reaching effects of the economic crisis" of which you speak? Yeah, those effects have far-reached themselves into the art market, too. I mention this, in case you hadn't heard that turning canvases into liquid assets isn't currently the cash cow it used to be.

4. My understanding is that the Rose is a financially sound, nearly self-supporting unit. The few museum expenditures that come out of the overall Brandeis budget are for heat and lights. If this is true, the Board's decision is not about operating costs, it's about plundering resources that are not specifically theirs to plunder--resources held in trust--to fatten other coffers. Which is a nice way of not saying the word "stealing."

5. This is not directed at the Brandeis Trustees, but to educational boards everywhere: why are the arts always on top of the Sacrificial Lambs list whenever any system has to tighten its budgetary belt?

Update, 02/01/09: Statement from the Fine Arts Faculty about the Rose Art Museum

Related Reading Image credit: Exterior shot of the Rose Art Museum; courtesy of Brandeis University.


January 30, 2009 at 5:34 am
(1) Brian says:

a collection-based exhibit + conversation

friday, january 30 6-8pm
shapiro student center, brandeis university

The “unanimous” decision by the Trustees of Brandeis University to liquidate the Rose Art Museum’s outstanding permanent collection and to close the facility is not only ill advised, but destructive to the entire Brandeis community. We demand a more detailed explanation as to how this decision was reached, considering the Rose is one of Brandeis’ greatest cultural offerings.

This situation must be remedied in efforts to defend both the reputation of the school and its many concerned students and faculty. We must consider the impact that the Trustees’ decision will have on our experience as students, and our future as professionals.

Using projected and reproduced images from the Rose’s collection of over 6000 art objects and footage from student protests on campus, COMESEEART is the beginning of a conversation on the nature of visual imagery and authenticity, the future of art at Brandeis, and how this weak decision can strengthen us as a community.

Brian Friedberg: bfriedbe@brandeis.edu
Penelope Taylor: penelope@brandeis.edu

February 2, 2009 at 2:44 pm
(2) Jim Vankirk says:

Take it easy folks … according to Rosalind Krauss a great deal of past progress/ development in the arts has come about because of external social events… world wars, depressions and recessions, etc. On the bright side this will bring about a revaluing of Modernism and Post-Modernism. There is a great deal to be said for novel solutions to aesthetic problems but there is also such a thing as excellence. I would much rather see a renewed interest in Guy Rose and Franz Bischoff than continue to prop up the suspicious reputation of Roy Lictenstein.

February 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm
(3) Michael Marashian says:

I’m curious to know what these other investments will be. Are they going to sell off the art and give it to another Madoff? This isn’t a sell-off of a money pit, it’s plundering of resources due to bad investments, as you said, David. And who is going to make the new investment decisions, the same people who lost past monies? And of course, the arts are always the first to go.

February 3, 2009 at 4:19 pm
(4) Shelley says:

With all due respect, Mr. Vankirk, your logic only works in reference to art collections held by corporations or private individuals. Non-profit art museums are bound by codes of ethics not to treat donor gifts as liquefiable assets.

I very seriously doubt any past Rose Art Museum donors acted on the belief that their gifts might, some day, “bring about a revaluing of Modernism and Post-Modernism” or ratchet Roy Lichtenstein down a notch on the auction market.

February 13, 2009 at 4:02 pm
(5) piktor says:

If you ask my opinion, I would say the Rose Collection is second rate, maybe third rate.

April 16, 2009 at 3:08 pm
(6) Jim VanKirk says:

Now Shelly: There you go again. I never suggested the sale of any particular work or even a particular collection would bring about a revaluation. I think Rosalind was speaking of the impact of major social upheaval in revaluing artistic impulses for the new era.
The one thing we can disagree on though if you’re looking for a squabble the Art world is certainly not in need of the self-righteous certitude of a number of art world pundits.
The lesson you should have taken from the Arts of the past 50 yrs is to not give in to fear of the future in Art.

April 16, 2009 at 3:35 pm
(7) Shelley says:

Oh, Mr. VanKirk. I’d say the one thing over which we seriously might disagree are reader comments that reek of condescension.

From where I sit, you and I have no squabble. We are strangers who happen to have a difference of opinion. You are clearly convinced that mine is wrong; let’s leave it at that.

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