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Rose Museum Outrage, from CAA and Contemporary Museums; More Brandeis Self-Justifications

RoseHart.jpg
Marsden Hartley’s “Musical Theme (Oriental Symphony),” 1912-13, Rose Art Museum, seen at today’s Guggenheim Museum’s New York press preview of The Third Mind (Can we keep it?)

The College Art Association has added its voice to the chorus of condemnation against the possible dissolution of the Rose Art Museum. Here is its statement:

CAA Protests Rose Art Museum’s Closing and Art Collection Sale at Brandeis University

January 29, 2009, New York, NY – The College Art Association (CAA) was shocked and dismayed to learn of the decision by Brandeis University to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its entire art collection for operating revenue.

CAA supports the Codes of Ethics of the American Association of Museums and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which clearly state that works of art in museum collections are held as a public trust and that any proceeds of sales must only support the acquisition of new works. However, perceiving an entire art collection as a disposable financial asset and then dismantling that collection wholesale to cover other university expenses is deeply troubling for all college and university collections.

The closing of the museum at Brandeis will be devastating to the academic community, not only affecting our colleagues at the museum and students and faculty in the Department of Fine Arts, which offers programs in both studio art and art history, but also depriving the entire arts-loving public in New England and around the world. The teaching of art and art history in higher education is untenable without the direct study of physical works of art, and it appears the Brandeis Board of Trustees has disregarded the kind of scholarship and creativity that have been the hallmark of CAA members for nearly one hundred years.

According to news reports, neither Brandeis University nor the Rose Art Museum is on the brink of economic collapse, nor are they unable to maintain the collections. Given that no clear explanation has been offered on the school’s financial exigencies, the closure of the Rose Art Museum and the sale of its collection appear to be in violation of professional museum standards and of academic transparency and due process; the decision also demonstrates a lack of academic responsibility and fiduciary foresight. We appeal to the Trustees of Brandeis to revisit and reverse their decision.

Another condemnatory salvo was fired off by a group of 18 directors of contemporary art museums and institutes, including college and university museums such as the MIT List Visual Art Center, the Weatherspoon Art Museum of the University of North Carolina, the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College and the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois. Some excerpts:

We are…writing to express our outrage at the announcement today of your decision to close The Rose Art Museum and sell its highly distinguished and internationally recognized collection. This decision violates every rule of ethics and responsible governance adopted by museums across the country, and it is all the more reprehensible that this decision was reached through a process that lacked candor and transparency….

The Rose itself was not in financial dire straits, so it is unconscionable that the University would identify it as an expendable resource given the limited stake Brandeis maintained in its operation and given its demonstrated ability to stand on its own at a time of financial instability.

Meanwhile, Judith Dobrzynski, in today’s Daily Beast, give the view from Brandeis’ executive suite. Dobrzynski reports:

In an exclusive interview [why "exclusive" on a topic of widespread public interest?], Peter French, Brandeis’ chief operating officer, explained that the university’s situation is far more dire than it appeared in news accounts….Brandeis has already cut expenses and staff this year and last, and raised tuition and fees.

French said the alternative now was either a drastic shrinking of the university or selling the art. Faced with the prospect of closing 40 percent of the university’s buildings, reducing staff by an additional 30 percent, or firing 200 of its 360 faculty members–any of which, French said, would drastically change the university’s mission and essentially cripple it–”We’d rather use Rose.”

Before finalizing the decision, French explained, the university made an emergency appeal to donors, only to confront the [Bernard] Madoff losses.

Interestingly, the URL for this story says, “did-bernie-bankrupt-brandeis”—probably the original headline, until calmer editors prevailed.

Which brings me to the only plausible explanation for the bizarre, erratic behavior of the university’s administration in lurching through this mess: They’re infected with Madoff Madness.

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