Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Closing the Rose Art Museum

Work by the Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann, currently on display at the Rose Museum, Brandeis University. Image from the New York Times.

While I had heard last week of Brandeis University's decision to close its art museum, the Rose, and sell of the entirety of the collection in order to make up for a rapidly plunging endowment and a $10 million budget deficit, my outrage was renewed as I read more about the decision today.

I'm disgusted by President Jehuda Reinharz and the trustees of the University, who seem to feel that a museum is little more than a repository of items which hold little more value than monetary. The choice to sell off any public collection of art for profit or financial use other than funding more acqusitions is considered morally and ethically wrong by most everyone in the art world. These works belong not to the current regime of the school, but the entire Brandeis community, students past present and future, not to mention faculty, staff, and the greater Massachusetts and world communities.

And don't even get me started on the legal implications of trying to deaccesion any works of art in a public collection, never mind those that were donated or bought with donated funds with the understanding that they would be held, protected, and accessible to the public in perpetuity. If I were a donor to the school or museum, I would be disgusted and outraged at the University's blatent disregard of my intentions and generosity.

I may not have visited the Rose before, may not have been aware of its apparently unrivaled collection of 20th century masters, but I am infuriated by the short-sightedness, the ignorance, and the contempt for the value of art this decision shows. I fervently hope that the outrage surrounding the closing of the Rose prevents such actions from becoming a precedent for other financially-challenged institutions. What sort of country would we be if our bastions of academia disposed of their artistic, literary, historic, scientific, etc, treasures to the highest private bidders?


  1. I can't lie, my first thought was "Well, if the school needs money..." I didn't really think about the people who had donated the pieces. That is pretty crappy. Way to make me think thinky thoughts.

  2. I'm glad I make you think thinky thoughts! The part that really gets me about everyone who has that same first thought (at least those people who maintain that when presented with the evidence of why it's crap) is that no one ever goes, "oh hey, we've got all these electron microscopes and other expensive lab equipment, why don't we sell it?" Or "hey, let's sell off some of the old, rare books in our library because only literature students ever use them anyway." But for art students, the art is a tool for our education as important as microscopes and a cultural treasure just as important as a rare book.

  3. That's true. But there might be something to the fact that certain areas of study bring in a lot more revenue to particular schools. I can joke all I want about Iowa being all about football, but the biggest contributors to the relief effort were the same people who contribute to football. Maybe the Rose didn't bring in any money for the school but the science department does. I'm not saying it's right, but that is something as president they'd have to consider.

  4. That's true. They do have a lot of Graduate programs in math and the sciences, and their only MFA programs are in music and theatre.

    Although, they plan on remodeling the building to be used as studio art spaces, and for some reason I doubt studio art brings in the big bucks :D That plan also strikes me as wildly paradoxical - let's sell off all this art to make money, then use money to re-do the space so students can create art. Hmmm.