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The latest development at Brandeis University, which early last year decided to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its prized collection of modern art, is to lease works from its collections through a partnership with the auction house Sotheby’s. Selling works from the museum to alleviate the school’s recession-shattered endowment, critics say, is not off the table. The Rose collection ranges from classics by Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg to more recent works by Dana Schutz, whose first museum exhibition was held at the Rose in 2006.

“The talks between Sotheby’s and Brandeis started a year ago,” writes Ellen Howards of the Boston Herald, but school officials cannot “predict which institutions might lease the art, which works could be made available or what sum a leasing deal would generate.”

A Boston Globe editorial proclaims that “Brandeis should only lend to institutions capable of caring for its artworks. And it should use any revenues to guarantee a future for the Rose.” In a bold statement, the paper also suggests that the university “deserves praise, not criticism, for trying to raise revenue through its collection.”

Geoff Edgars, also of the Boston Globe, offers recent precedents for the Rose’s controversial move: the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta have all rented artworks to other museums and institutions.

In addition, last week Brandeis announced the hiring of a new president, Frederick M. Lawrence, dean of George Washington University Law School. He will fill the position to be vacated by Jehuda Reinharz, who was responsible for the ill-fated idea to close the museum and sell its art, in January 2011.

A report issued by a Brandeis University committee recommends that the school’s Rose Art Museum remain open, but the future of the collection of modern and contemporary art is still in doubt.

In the Boston Globe, Tracy Jan writes that the committee, comprising teachers, students, and university trustees and officials, also suggests better integration between the museum and academic departments, which include not just visual art but also math and science. In addition, a full-time director, who would also teach, and an education director should be hired.

This past summer several members of the Rose Art Museum’s board of overseers filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts in an attempt to prevent Brandeis from selling the art collection. Last week the university filed to dismiss that lawsuit, according to Greg Cook of the New England Journal of Aesthetic Research. An October 13 hearing date has been set.

“Guess what? The art is not yours to sell.” So says Jonathan Lee of the board of overseers of the maligned Rose Art Museum about a lawsuit filed yesterday that aims to stop Brandeis University from closing the institution and selling the art collection. Lee has joined fellow overseers Lois Foster and Meryl Rose—who is a member of the family that founded the museum—to ask the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to issue a preliminary injunction to halt the university’s plans.

Jerry Kronenberg of the Boston Herald and Tracy Jan of the Boston Globe have more on the story.

The board of overseers at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University released a statement yesterday, found here and here, to counter provost Marty Wyngaarden Krauss’s missive from last week about keeping the building open to art exhibitions beyond this summer. Since late January, when the university first announced plans to close the museum and sell its collections, the school administration has backpedaled several times, claiming to transform the museum into an art study and exhibition center (which it already is), to not sell the entire collection, and to continue hosting exhibitions. To which the board responds:

In her letter, Krauss attempted to clarify future plans for the Rose Art Museum once the University closes it on June 30, 2009. Despite the existence of the current Board of Overseers for the museum, Brandeis has named a new committee to “explore future options for the Rose.” In addition, the current position of museum director will be eliminated. According to Jon Lee, chair of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Overseers, “Without a director or curator, the Rose cannot continue to function as a museum under any meaningful definition. Since the University’s announcement on January 26, 2009 that it would close the museum, membership and Rose Overseer dues, and all donations have ceased or been asked to be returned. This amounts to more than $2.5 million.”

“When the Rose family originally founded the Rose Art Museum, they were very clear about its mission and the integral role it would play as a part of the Brandeis community,” said Meryl Rose, a member of the Rose Art Museum’s Board of Overseers and a relative to the original museum founders. “A museum with a collection and reputation such as the Rose needs a director, and while Krauss’s letter states that the collection will be cared for, it does not erase the fact that the Rose as we know it will cease to exist under the administration’s current plans. The administration is carrying out an elaborate charade, the first step of which is to turn the Rose from a true museum as its founders intended, into something quite different….”

Again, the full statement can be found here and here. Richard Lacayo, art and architectural critic for Time, wrote about Brandeis’s announcement last week and quotes Rose director Michael Rush:

So long as the Rose remains open as a museum, it remains subject to the ethical guidelines of American museum groups that do what they can to discourage the kind of emergency sales that Brandeis is contemplating. But I spoke later with Michael Rush, the director of the Rose, who will soon be gone, along with several other significant Rose staffers. He was skeptical about what the university was doing. “They’re talking about keeping the Rose open,” he said. “But there’s no director, no curator, no education director, no funding stream and no program.”

An update to Lacayo’s report is a message from Jon Lee, Rose board chairman, which notes that Massachusett’s Attorney General office is watching developments closely.

The situation at Brandeis is one of many taking place concerning unusual uses of restricted endowments and related funding. In his article “New Unrest on Campus as Donors Rebel,” John Hechinger of the Wall Street Journal writes, “As schools struggle more than they have in decades to fund their core operations, many are looking to a rich pool of so-called restricted gifts—held in endowments whose donors often provide firm instructions on how their money should be spent.”

Read more of CAA’s coverage of the Rose Art Museum. The museum itself has been keeping a comprehensive log of articles and reviews.

The website of Art in America magazine reports that the Rose Art Museum is not closing this summer as previously expected: “Current exhibitions—‘Saints and Sinners’ and ‘Hans Hofmann: Circa 1950’—will remain on view through May 17th; after a brief de-install, the museum will re-open on July 22nd with works from the permanent collection.” Four museum staff members are expected to retain their positions, although Michael Rush will no longer direct.

Further, according to the museum administrator Jay Knox, Brandeis University plans to dissolve the museum’s board of directors, and the longterm stability of the collection is still unknown.

This Week at the Rose Art Museum

posted by February 06, 2009

News about the closing of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University and the selling of its collection slowed down this week, but not without several highlights. Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz issued a formal apology—not for the decision to dismantle the museum’s collection but rather for his mishandling the announcement to do so. He also regretted leaving out the Brandeis community in the board of trustees’ deliberations.

Michael Rush, director of the Rose, posted his statement on the closing and sale directly to his museum’s website this week. The university’s Department of Fine Arts also joined the chorus of protest voices, issuing a statement to all university faculty, students, alumni, and friends of the department. Also, the New York Times condemned the Brandeis decision in an article by Roberta Smith and in an unsigned editorial.

Jeff Gilbride of the Daily News Tribune in Waltham, Massachusetts, was at the “funeral march” held this week by Brandeis students as an “emotional and rowdy counterpart” to last week’s sit-in at the museum. Relatedly, Jeff Weistein from Obit wonders, “Can a Museum Die?”

Greg Cook reviews the current exhibition at the Rose, Hans Hoffmann: Circa 1950, for the Boston Phoenix, and Daniel Grant considers donor responses and restrictions on gifts in his article “Is the University’s Museum Just a Rose to Be Plucked?” for the Wall Street Journal.

The Rose Art Museum website is chronicling the press on the closing and sale. Laurie Fendrich has been passionately following the story in the Chronicle Review, the blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education. And, of course, the Boston Globe has been leading the charge with daily reports.

The Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis University, chaired by Charles B. McClendon, the Sidney and Ellen Wien Professor in the History of Art, has published a statement on the closing of the Rose Art Museum. It was sent to all university faculty, students, alumni, and friends of this department. Here is the letter in full:

Late Monday afternoon (January 26) the Department of Fine Arts was notified that the University Board of Trustees resolved to disband the Rose Art Museum and sell the collection at auction to raise funds for the university. In addition to despairing at the Trustees’ action, we wish to make clear that at no point in the decision making process was the Department of Fine Arts faculty consulted. Neither was there any communication regarding the decision with the Rose Board of Overseers on which a member of the faculty sits. Nor was any reference made to the museum at the university-wide faculty meeting last Thursday (January 22) when strategies to confront the current fiscal crisis were discussed.

The department faculty wishes to express our profound sadness at the consequences of this abrupt action for the liberal arts mission, cultural life, and intellectual legacy of the university. Since its founding in 1961, the Rose Art Museum has been building a collection of post-war and contemporary art, gradually, steadily, and with the generous support of donors who believe in Brandeis. Often cited as the best in New England, the collection includes superb examples of work by nearly every major artist from the post-war decades, such as Jasper Johns and Willem de Kooning, and deep holdings of art of the present and of classic modern art from both sides of the Atlantic. No other university in the region can claim a more renowned resource for the study of modern and contemporary art. In the past year thousands of visitors came to the Rose to admire the collection.

The Rose has been a leading expression of the value Brandeis places on the arts. The museum has demonstrated the commitment of Brandeis to intellectual rigor in the humanities as well as social sciences and hard sciences. In the last few years it has served as a place where faculty and students from many disciplines come together for symposia, exhibitions, lectures, and concerts. Through the Rose, Brandeis has publicly placed a premium on creative thinking in whatever form it may take. Binding art to the mission of Jewish sponsored scholarship and education was critical to the history of post-war American art. The continued connection between art and education at Brandeis has been a defining aspect of the Brandeis contribution to American higher education. This mission and the values it has imbued in generations of students have been fundamental to the growth and successes of the educational program of the Department of Fine Arts. The Rose is essential to the character of this department as it exists today.

The collection is an intellectual history of post-war society that corresponds to the history of Brandeis itself. Curators and art historians have been drawing on our collection to tell histories of American art and culture to audiences here in Waltham and around the globe. Hundreds of students from studio art and art history classes study the collection each semester. For some, the collection has been the seedbed for important careers in the arts, Academe, and great museums.

As to the proposed future of the museum building, at no time before or after notification of the decision, have members of the Fine Arts Department expressed a desire to change the function of the Rose or reuse the building. There is no academic advantage to be salvaged from closing the museum and selling our art. It is a sad response to the current fiscal crisis that treasures left in trust for current and future students are now being sacrificed. The department remains committed to continuing the legacy of the intellectual and artistic practice here. We are losing an irreplaceable tool to fulfill that goal.

The Department of Fine Arts offers undergraduate degrees in studio art and art history and hosts a postbaccalaureate program in studio art. Both the department and the Rose Art Museum are CAA institutional members.

Yesterday about two hundred students and other protesters staged a sit-in at the Rose Art Museum, reports the Boston Globe, which has been following the story closely since Monday. A Facebook group and a website, established this week shortly after the news of the closing, played a major role in rallying students and support.

The Boston Globe also presents some of the larger issues surrounding Brandeis University’s finances. Modern Art Notes has published an general email sent by Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz to those who wrote to him. In it Reinharz gives a few more details about his school’s financial situation. The Justice, the independent student newspaper at Brandeis, and the Wall Street Journal are also looking into this part of the developing story.

The Brandeis Hoot also weighs in on the situation, and Emily Leifer of the Justice writes an op-ed about Brandeis’s public image.

Art & Education, the academic wing of e-flux and Artforum, republished and emailed CAA’s statement against the closing.

Rose Art Museum Updates

posted by January 29, 2009

Ford W. Bell, president of the American Association of Museums, has issued a Statement on the Closure of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University. Read it at the Boston Globe’s Exhibitionist blog.

Artinfo.com has published the response from the Association of Art Museum Directors.

The Association of College and University Museums and Galleries, a CAA affiliated society, has published its statement, ACUMG Responds to the Closure of the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University.

Also as reported in the Boston Globe, the president of Brandeis University, Jehuda Reinharz, said that while he would not reconsider closing the museum, he is entertaining the possibility that his school might not sell the Rose Art Museum’s art collection and reaffirmed that the museum building would become a “fine arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery.” CAA notes that the Rose Art Museum as it stands now is already this.

Other updates and articles can be found at Bloomberg.com, the New York Times, and Modern Art Notes, including a Q&A with Michael Rush, director of the Rose Art Museum. Time also interviewed Rush on Tuesday, and Lee Rosenbaum at CultureGrrl has additional information.

Donn Zaretsky at Art Law Blog is also writing about the Rose situation, with deaccessioning in mind.

The College Art Association (CAA) was shocked and dismayed to learn of the decision by Brandeis University to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its entire art collection for operating revenue.

CAA supports the Codes of Ethics of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which clearly state that works of art in museum collections are held as a public trust and that any proceeds of sales must only support the acquisition of new works. However, perceiving an entire art collection as a disposable financial asset and then dismantling that collection wholesale to cover other university expenses is deeply troubling for all college and university collections.

The closing of the museum at Brandeis will be devastating to the academic community, not only affecting our colleagues at the museum and students and faculty in the Department of Fine Arts, which offers programs in both studio art and art history, but also depriving the entire arts-loving public in New England and around the world. The teaching of art and art history in higher education is untenable without the direct study of physical works of art, and it appears the Brandeis Board of Trustees has disregarded the kind of scholarship and creativity that have been the hallmark of CAA members for nearly one hundred years.

According to news reports, neither Brandeis University nor the Rose Art Museum is on the brink of economic collapse, nor are they unable to maintain the collections. Given that no clear explanation has been offered on the school’s financial exigencies, the closure of the Rose Art Museum and the sale of its collection appear to be in violation of professional museum standards and of academic transparency and due process; the decision also demonstrates a lack of academic responsibility and fiduciary foresight. We appeal to the Trustees of Brandeis to revisit and reverse their decision.

Paul B. Jaskot
President, College Art Association
Professor of Art History
Department of the History of Art and Architecture
DePaul University

Linda Downs
Executive Director, College Art Association

Download a PDF of this letter from the CAA website.