CAA News Today

Brandeis Department of Fine Arts Responds to Museum Closing

posted by Christopher Howard — Feb 03, 2009

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.