Culture, Politics

Brandeis Announces Sale of Art Collection Amid Protests

The NYT reports,

The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it planned to conduct a detailed review of Brandeis University’s surprise decision to sell off the entire holdings of its Rose Art Museum, one of the most important collections of postwar art in New England.
“I was shocked. I’m still shocked,” Michael Rush, director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, said about the decision to close the museum.
The decision to close the 48-year-old museum in Waltham, Mass., and disperse the collection as a way to shore up the university’s struggling finances was denounced by the museum’s board, its director and a wide range of art experts, who warned that the university was cannibalizing its cultural heritage to pay its bills.
“This is one of the artistic and cultural legacies of American Jewry,” said Jonathan Lee, the chairman of the museum’s board of overseers, who said that “nobody at the museum — neither the director nor myself nor anyone else — was informed of this or had any idea what was going on.”
Jehuda Reinharz, the university’s president, said in a statement that the decision, made on Monday by the university’s trustees, was agonizing but necessary as Brandeis faces a deepening financial crisis, with its endowment, once $700 million, significantly diminished. “Choosing between and among important and valued university assets is terrible, but our priority in the face of hard choices will always be the university’s core teaching and research mission,” he wrote.
The museum’s collection includes some 6,000 works — among them seminal paintings by artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein — that are believed to be worth $350 million to $400 million, although they could bring less in the current ailing art market.
“It couldn’t be a worse time to sell expensive art,” said Robert Storr, the prominent curator and art historian. “It is not only unprincipled, but bad economics.”
He added: “This sets a terrible precedent. The Rose Art Museum has been known for four decades as a hospitable place to show serious and challenging art in an academic context. They are throwing away one of their prime assets.”

Full story here.
Some of Brandeis’ biggest donors were hit hard by the Madoff scandal. It’s interesting to note that despite all this, though, Brandeis seems to be continuing forward with plans for a $154 million-dollar science center.

5 thoughts on “Brandeis Announces Sale of Art Collection Amid Protests

  1. as a brandeis student, I feel awful about this decision, as does everyone….it really sucks. that being said, if the university needs to sell the museum to save the academy, then i’m all for it. the problem is that the administration is so opaque about the whole process that we have no idea if this was an emergency decision made out of absolute necessity (“Quick, sell the art or we’re kaput!”), or just the trustees deciding they could use some extra cash as a safety net.
    the science center comparison, however, is unfair–the building was pretty far along when the stock market collapsed late last year, and to my layman’s eyes it looked almost finished when the madoff stuff happened. its not like they sold the art museum and are just now starting to put bricks on top of bricks to make a new science center.

  2. I think everyone should try to think about what their alternatives were. It’s sad, yes. But if their other choices were to take money away from one of the small departments (like mine, linguistics), then I’d prefer to have no art museum.

  3. It is sad. I don’t know what the alternatives were, but I agree that it is better not to have an art museum than to cut academics. I fear, though, that the bad press this sale will receive will make people not want to donate to Brandeis and not want to apply to study here. I hope that soon Brandeis can be back in the papers for the many wonderful programs, research projects, great teaching, and, yes, social justice initiatives, that go on here.

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