BREAKING: Rose Art museum to be shut down and auctioned off!

UPDATE: the text of this post seems to have mysteriously disappeared about 10 minutes ago. Here it is again. Since then, President Reinharz sent out a graceful email explaining the situation. It as I was told earlier – the Rose is to be closed, and its collection auctioned off. Reinharz says,

I am satisfied that our commitment is unwavering; that someday we will look back and say that when the quality of education and student services was at stake, we made hard choices so that Brandeis could emerge even stronger.

My thoughts on this are still conflicted. On the one hand, I love the Rose. It made Brandeis unique – which other liberal arts schools have such a prestigious museum on their grounds? On the other, this auction could raise tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars; I don’t know the full value of the collection. Was this a good decision? As I stated earlier, only if there are terms allowing us to “buy back” items at a later date, in sunnier times – such a stipulation could be written into the sale. For some of the more priceless items in our collection, this definitely seems like a logical step. Otherwise… I really don’t know. What other options were on the table? I wonder if we’ll ever find out. By this point, I doubt it.

I’m sure the recent falling-through of the new Arts building donor (about 3 months ago) had something to do with this. In the associated press release, we were told that:

Today’s decision will set in motion a long-term plan to sell the art collection and convert the professional art facility to a teaching, studio, and gallery space for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.

So this serves two purposes – to raise capital for the University, and serve as the new teaching space for the Fine Arts department. You gotta give it to them – sort of smart. In a tragic kinda way.

Original post below.

A source that shall remain nameless just informed me that the Board of Trustees, in their special secret Executive session today, voted to close down the Rose and auction off its collection. Let me here offer a brief interjection:


This inquisitive individual was interested in my thoughts on this and other issues related to the budgetary decisions. My response:

I was shocked to hear that the Rose is being closed, and you are in fact the first person who’s informed me of this. One of the things that makes Brandeis unique is its prestigious art collection and excellent museum, especially for its size. To close the Rose is a terrible loss to the University, and to auction off its collection as a cost-saving measure is tragic. People say that in times of hardship, the arts are always cut first, and this seems to uphold that maxim. I would only begin to consider such a plan acceptable if there were specific provisions allowing us to buy back the collection in times of sunnier finances; since I don’t know the details, I can’t say much more than that.

Talking to people around campus, I can say that everyone I’ve talked to wishes there was more of a student voice in the decision-making and brainstorming surrounding the budget cuts. This is our university, and so far, we’ve been pretty marginalized in these decisions. The general student body had no idea about the closing of the Rose, no idea about the proposed curriculum changes until we saw leaked emails, and no idea about the decision to cut merit scholarships for study abroad until it had been made. Students care deeply about the University and want to be a part of the idea-generating and decision-making process when making these cuts. Since most budget cut decisions have been decrees from above, they startle and anger students. Everywhere, students have this apprehension – what will be cut next? Students need to be more involved. With each cut, I feel more and more alienated from the Brandeis I have come to love. I’m not the only one.

For these reasons, we have begun to organize for more involvement in decisions. Last thursday, I helped organize a demonstration outside a closed faculty meeting to protest for greater transparency. Prior to the demonstration, I and two others – Danny Cairns, a graduate student, and Sahar Massachi, a fellow sophomore, tried to enter the meeting at the door. The campus police were called and we were interrogated and told to leave.

Since then, we have seen an outpouring of faculty support for student involvement, and a renewed willingness on the part of the Administration to reach out to students. But these cuts are still coming after too little deliberation and without enough student input. They are being pressed upon us with alarming urgency. Its scary.


17 thoughts on “BREAKING: Rose Art museum to be shut down and auctioned off!”

  1. with all due respect to J, and with full acknowledgment of how sad this decision is, it’s not fair to complain that while art suffers, “our science buildings remain intact.” surely you recognize that you’re comparing apples and oranges.

  2. As an undergraduate student at Brandeis University, I started as a psychology student and struggled in my major. I took my first art history class, visited and studied at the Rose Art Museum, and it changed my life. I worked with artist Jonathan Borofsky on the “God Project” and later went on to lecture at the MFA about Jonathan after receiving my master’s in art history.

    Many of the works of art at the Rose have gone directly from the artist to the museum — their provenance, as it is called, has never left the hands of anyone by someone like Jasper Johns or the Director of the Rose.
    Or, still, a Brandeis graduate, owner of a painting, sculpture or drawing may have bequeathed his/her prized Warhol to Brandeis after having a similar experience with the Rose as I mentioned above. Now, it will leave the Rose…and enter the hands of someone else.

    Why is it that the arts must always suffer first? Our science buildings remain in tact. More and more students will be crammed into the already busy dorms.
    Brandeis’s arts program had begun to shine under the new Director of the Arts.

    I’ve always been a proud Brandeis graduate–proud to say, at a cocktail party that I went to Brandeis. Now, I will focus on efforts on where I received my master’s degree.

  3. Ah, just because someone doesn’t necessarily like art doesn’t mean it doesn’t have it’s value. I hate science. That doesn’t mean I was against Brandeis building the new Shapiro center. To quote Oscar Wilde, art for art’s sake. (True, he also said that all art is what useless, but he wouldn’t dare say it to defend this decision!)

    Anyway, does anyone know when the Rose is going to close?

  4. I wonder if all the major donors to the museum were consulted. If not and if they intended for the work not to be sold, then they can sue to stop the sale of their art which would be likely. this could be tied up in courts for a while.

  5. I’d like to point out that this story has made CNN, the New York Times, the LA Times (blogs) and that’s just in the space of a few hours.

  6. Dear “B”,

    I love when this happens, and I find it a lot. People get so angry with you because you disagree that they start calling you names and making guesses–not only about your intellect but also about your priorities. And the condescension is ever-present. But moving past that….

    I can match you. As a future alum and son of an alum, I can look through my yearbook–call it Facebook or the photograph on the wall of the Campus Center–and see exponentially more diversity than I see in my dad’s yearbook (1975…’before you ask’). I’m also unsure how that relates to the fact that Brandeis has a choice to cut either a useful part of its holdings (the professors, say) or a nice-bonus part of its holdings (the Rose Art Museum, say).

    It’s a lovely ideal to be able to explore art and science together. Perhaps more students would have availed themselves of this opportunity during the greatly idealistic days of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. However, by all accounts I’ve read, attendance at the Rose is somewhere between “anemic” and “nonexistent”, indicating either that the school ain’t the same or that students don’t give a damn about weird art. I’d hope for our sanity that it’s the latter, but even if it’s the former, that’s something you’ll have to continue taking up with President Reinharz.

    By the way, I’m honored that a sentence directed at me includes President Reinharz in parentheses.

    As to my failings…let’s list them:
    1. I am an American Studies major.
    2. I cannot comment on the art in the vault
    3. I have never taken an art history class
    4. I have never visited a gallery or museum of my own accord

    Ad hom 1: Nice guess, unfounded in anything you know about me, and I choose not to reveal whether I am because it is, as most ad hom arguments are, irrelevant.
    Ad hom 2: Of course I cannot comment on it. It’s in a vault and not visible to the public. Let’s sell it for some cash to keep the faculty, which is, after all, the purpose of a univesity.
    Ad hom 3: If music is not art then this is correct. Otherwise it’s false, because I took a fantastic music history class last year. I also did my time for the Aesthetics segment of the IB curriculum in high school.
    Ad hom 4: Again, let’s leave out Orchestra Halls in three major cities and smaller chamber groups in five or six. Let’s ignore the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corning glass museum, a handful of small house-museums in Tel Aviv, and some of the Smithsonian Institution halls. So I guess you were right about that one–again, not that it’s relevant to the argument about selling stuff we don’t use to keep stuff we do.

    I’m keeping a ranking of insults since I came to the institution you can’t bear being associated with:
    1. “War criminal” – class of 2008 antagonizer, comparing me to Ariel Sharon and getting about as close to an invocation of Godwin’s Law that I’ve ever heard.
    2. “Terrorist…apologist” by one distinguished Professor Hindley, who most recently published (as translator/editor) in your senior year here
    3. “The epitome of what has gone wrong with Brandeis….” by someone who has neglected to include their name to support what they believe.

    I hope that was your own invention, not what you learned about analysis and documentation while you were here.

    Special for you, I close with an alternative (internet generated) quote regarding art. If I’m not mistaken, art is the asshole in the following sentence:

    “The buttocks are the most aesthetically pleasing part of the body because they are non-functional. Although they conceal an essential orifice, these pointless globes are as near as the human form can ever come to abstract art.” –Kenneth Tynan

  7. I agree with Gideon. Art has always bothered me. Whenever I look at it I think “What does it do?!” The idea of Brandeis wasting money on things with the express purpose of sitting there and being looked at makes me shudder. Also, the art at the Rose sucks. I don’t know if the artists think they’re finding any sort of truth, but really all they do is make people uncomfortable.

    As for the arts at Brandeis, I think it is safe to say that we can kiss those goodbye. Where’s the necessity? It certainly sucks for the kids who came here to study art, but we can’t allow a university trying to remain competitive to base its decisions on the aspirations of students. Hopes and dreams are for when the bottom line is in the black. Now is the time to cut off anything that can’t swim.

  8. @Gideon

    You are the epitome of what has gone wrong/downhill with Brandeis since it was founded. You make me ashamed to have gone to the same University.

    Firstly, I’m not sure if your American Studies (just a guess) degree makes you competent or informed enough to comment on the quality of the art in the Rose’s vault. I’m guessing you have also never taken an art history class or visited another gallery or art museum (unless forced to do so by a parent or a class trip).

    As an alum and the daughter of an alum, I am disgusted in the direction that Brandeis University has turnined. I would never give a dime to a university run by the soulless Jehuda Reinharz. He has, for the entirety of his ill-conceived presidency, been taking emphasis away from the arts at Brandeis, seeing only immediate money and not looking to the future. Silly in this market, where the amount he could get for these amazing works is much less than their actual worth.

    When I applied, there were still the great ideals of the 40s, 50s and 60s. There was still talk of art and science only meaning anything if explored together. Hell, there was still talk of diversity (a diversity I see in my mother’s yearbook, but most certainly not in mine!).

    Honestly, nearly everything that has occurred since my commencement (1997, before you ask) has made me embarrassed to be associated with this institution.

    I’ll close by quoting George Sand, “Art is not a study of positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal truth.”

    And, dear Gideon (and Jehuda) isn’t the motto of our esteemed University “truth, even unto it’s innermost parts”?

  9. Daniel:

    You thought, perhaps, that the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries would applaud the closure of one of its members? Issue a statement praising Brandeis for prioritizing its core mission over ancillary activities? Of course they condemned it. The whole point of the organization is to advocate for campus museums.

    I understand that the process stinks, but that doesn’t mean it produced a bad outcome. Do you really think that Brandeis has an obligation to preserve a collection that’s worth $300m+ at the same time it’s slashing its basic educational responsibilities? That’s the only question. We can all agree that, in the abstract, closing Rose is a shame. But what other choices does the University realistically have at this point?

    And yes, Brandeis may fail to get the $300 million it would’ve gotten last year. But even if it’s half that amount (and bear in mind, the sale won’t take place for some time to come – not before the fall, and perhaps not for several years, if it gets tied up in the courts) it’s money better spent on preserving the educational mission of the university. If Brandeis was given a $300 million gift tomorrow without any strings attached, and allocated all of it to the Rose Museum, we’d rightly denounce that decision as misguided and even immoral, given the university’s broader obligations. So how is this different?

  10. The article on this reveals some disturbing details:

    Apparently the director of the Museum, Michael Rush, had just learned of this decision this evening which fits the profile of decisions that affect many in the Brandeis community coming without any notice or notification.

    There is also the fact that such a large scale art sell off is both unprecedented and widely condemned by Association of College and University Museums and Galleries. Moreover, the art market is bottomed out now because of the same recession and thus the art may not sell for a very large amount.

  11. Unfortunately we won’t have the opportunity to do this test anymore, but I would have been interested in seeing a poll that asked students which segment (the Rose, the Faculty, the Housing, the Student Activities, etc.) of Brandeis they considered most important or relevant to their time as an undergraduate. I’m sure the Rose would have lost that poll by a long shot.

    I went to the Rose once–as a senior in high school, when I wandered on to campus to visit and when it happened to be Bernstein Week or whatever. My dad and I went in to see a house made out of talking plaster that contained a video screen showing images of fat people and spewing baby-coo sentences full of nonsense. Since that traumatizing experience, and in the intervening three-plus semesters I’ve been on campus, I’ve thought about going to the Rose once (there was a particular event going on) and actually went–well–never.

    Something had to go. May as well make it the least-used, best-evaluated institution of campus. Sure, it’s great to have million-dollar ugly paintings shunted off in storage at the edge of campus. But why not allow someone who really wants to hang this stuff on their living room wall have that (somewhat unfortunate) opportunity?

  12. Do we know whether or not the student representatives were at the Board of Trustees meeting?

  13. The Rose art museum was one of those things that truly made Brandeis feel both unique and like a world class/top ranked school. It elevated our prestige by its presence. It shall be missed. Moreover, many classes n both arts and education will suffer because of its closure.

  14. You can’t look at a decision like this in the abstract.

    The Rose, as an institution, has always been a disappointment. Its attendance is anemic. It’s poorly integrated into the curricula; most undergraduates pass four years on campus without ever stepping foot inside. and it lacks the gallery space to display the priceless works of art that lie stockpiled in its vault. Even so, the solution to these problems has always been to rectify them, and remedy its shortcomings.

    But suddenly, Brandeis no longer has that luxury. It’s contemplating some incredibly drastic measures to cover the projected 2010-11 shortfall of $10 million – reducing the size of the faculty by 10%, freezing or cutting wages, reorganizing majors, instituting summer sessions. These sorts of steps will have a permanent and destructive effect on the university’s core mission, not to mention on the lives of the staff and faculty who will lose their jobs. Brandeis has already cut the number of GSAS students it’s taking next year in half; it hasn’t a clue how it’s going to cover the classes they would have taught.

    That’s the necessary context. And, I’d submit, in that context it doesn’t make much sense for the university to be sitting on an art collection worth, conservatively, at least $300 million.

    Brandeis is an educational institution that lacks the resources, at the moment, to fulfill its core mission. Won’t we all be better off for this decision?

  15. I’m worried that the “long-term plan” stipulation will soon become a fixture on campus. It’s been applied to a number of the changes already announced, and will likely be applied to more in the future. This can mean one of two things:

    1. Several major changes have been in the works for months, or even years, with virtually no information communicated to students (and likely most faculty), changes which had to wait until a financial crisis to be announced and implemented;


    2. Several major changes have been proposed in response to the financial crisis, and are now being quickly implemented with the proviso that they are, in fact, long-considered judgments.

    The first version of events portrays the administration as secretive and crafty, waiting for an opportunity to alter our community with little option for us to respond. The second portrays them as somewhat dishonest, as well as eager to shut off debate. I can only hope that there’s a kinder angle that better describes the situation.

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