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AAM’s Brandeis Statement: The Rose Collection in Any Other Museum Would Smell (almost) as Sweet

Ford Bell, AAM’s president, speaking Monday at New York University

I was wondering what was taking them so long. We have already heard from AAMD and ACUMG, CAA and a group of contemporary museums, and AAMC. But AAM’s statement on the Rose woes was well worth the wait:

Taking a page out of the CultureGrrl book (4th paragraph), or, more likely, illustrating the maxim that “great minds think alike,” the American Association of Museums has not merely condemned Brandeis’ plan to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its art. AAM has proactively proposed “an alternate solution to the sale,” involving the transfer of the collection to another museum.

As it happened, I ran into Ford Bell, AAM’s president, at a conference in New York on Monday, and he mentioned in passing (hours before the Rose news broke) that the next urgent problem confronting AAM was getting university museums to abide by the association’s deaccession standards. Little did I know…

Here’s AAM’s statement in full. The last paragraph is the clincher:

January 29, 2009

AAM Statement on the Closure of the Rose Museum at Brandeis University

The American Association of Museums is alarmed and dismayed at the decision by Brandeis University to close the Rose Museum and sell the objects from its collection. Such a drastic action would be an irreparable loss to the university and its community. Present and future generations of students and the public would be deprived of a priceless educational experience.

Museums hold collections in the public trust. These collections are a part of our common heritage and belong, in a moral sense, to all of us. It is the museum’s job to preserve them for future generations.

By selling its art collection for cash to the highest bidder to erase a temporary deficit, Brandeis University is in fundamental violation of the public trust responsibilities it accepted the day it founded the Rose Museum. Such a sale is also a betrayal of the donors, who generously gave art for the benefit of the students and the public, not for paying bills. This is a direct violation of the AAM Code of Ethics for museums.

If it cannot afford to maintain and exhibit its collection, we urge Brandeis University to seek another steward of it. There are many fine museums in the region capable of caring for these works, even on a temporary basis, while the university explores other options. In choosing an alternate solution to the sale and irrevocable loss of the collection that was entrusted to its care, the university would serve as a role model for its students, faculty and community.

And this just in from Brian Friedberg, a Brandeis graduate student:

Thanks for your relentless posting on the travesty at the Rose. I’m a
Brandeis grad student (museum studies) organizing visual protests on
campus. Some of us are fighting back and attempting to raise the
attention on student activism. More info below, I just wanted you to
know what we’ve got going on on a micro level:

a collection-based exhibit + conversation

Friday, January 30, 6-8p.m., Shapiro Student Center, Brandeis University

The “unanimous” decision by the Trustees of Brandeis University to
liquidate the Rose Art Museum’s outstanding permanent collection and
to close the facility is not only ill advised, but destructive to the
entire Brandeis community. We demand a more detailed explanation as to
how this decision was reached, considering the Rose is one of
Brandeis’ greatest cultural offerings.

This situation must be remedied in efforts to defend both the
reputation of the school and its many concerned students and faculty.
We must consider the impact that the Trustees’ decision will have on
our experience as students and our future as professionals.

Using projected and reproduced images from the Rose’s collection of
over 6,000 art objects and footage from student protests on campus,
COMESEEART is the beginning of a conversation on the nature of visual
imagery and authenticity, the future of art at Brandeis, and how this
weak decision can strengthen us as a community.

Can this museum be saved? Its director, Michael Rush, thinks not.

an ArtsJournal blog