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The Roses of the Rose: Donors’ Family Members Protest

Bertha and Edward Rose, founding donors of the Rose Art Museum

I have just obtained from a member of the Rose family an e-mailed message sent on Jan. 27 to Michael Rush, director of the Rose Art Museum, by Jane Moss, whose grandfather was a first cousin of Edward Rose. With his wife Bertha, Edward was a founding donor of the eponymous museum that opened at Brandeis University in 1961. They had no children.

Jane Moss, a professor of French at Colby College, wrote this to Rush:

As a member of the Rose family, I am dismayed to read about Brandeis’ decision to close the museum and sell the collection without any prior notification to my family. Unfortunately, this shocking news comes right before we celebrate my mother’s, Doris Rose Hopengarten‘s, 90th birthday. She is the last surviving member of her generation of the family and this news will not be well received.

I think Brandeis and the Rose could have handled this better.

[CLARIFICATION: Although the above is the text of the letter sent to Rush, the family now informs me that Doris is one of the THREE last surviving members of her generation.]

Whether or not the university ultimately goes through with its initially announced decision to “deaccession” the entire museum, its failure to give prior notification to the Rose family is in sharp contrast to the handling of a 2001 sale of porcelain and ceramics that the founding Roses had donated to the museum. Jane Moss’ brother, Fred Hopengarten, an attorney, informed me that the museum had sought and obtained consent for the 2001 disposal from Rose family members “representing every branch of the family.”

“They checked with the Rose family about selling some china, but not about selling paintings bought with Rose money or about closing the museum that the Roses had funded,” Hopengarten fumed. He said he could confidently speak for his relatives (who had recently assembled for his mother’s 90th birthday) in expressing their dismay at not being consulted about the proposed dissolution or repurposing of the Rose.

Hopengarten told me in a phone interview:

Imagine what this has done to the academic art world. No one who is sentient will now consider gifts—certainly to Brandeis and maybe to the rest of the academic artworld—without exquisitely detailed bequest language that sets out conditions of reversion or other elements of an agreement, because the behavior was so outrageous.

I find it difficult intellectually to justify the claim that they [Brandeis’ administrators] love their art history majors, they love their art majors, but they don’t really think that the collection and the museum are essential support for those two majors. The comparable might be to say: “We love our physics majors, but we don’t need a lab.”

Hopengarten also informed me (in a written statement) that after working with then Brandeis President Abram Sacher to establish the museum, “Eddie [Rose] asked everyone who was a Rose to give to it. Though Eddie provided the seed money, his cousins also gave. Everyone in the family he could get hold of gave money to start the Rose….Additional recent contributions, from 1988 to 2001, to the Rose have come from the Estate of Anna Rose Hersee and from the Estate of Jean Hersee (Anna’s daughter, who died in 1999).”

Late last night, after our phone conversation, Hopengarten wrote this in an e-mail to Rush:

This generation of the Rose family is pretty distressed. Can I be helpful
to you in some way?

Of all the ways in which Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharzscrewed up,” none is more irresponsible than failing to inform, let alone consult, the founding philanthropists’ family. All of the taken-by-surprise donors of art to the Rose have been likewise mistreated. Most museums consult donors or their families before selling works, even in cases where there are no explicit legal restrictions against doing so.

A public town hall meeting (of which the Rose family had not been informed) to discuss this situation will be held at the museum today. Click here at at 6:30 p.m. for the live webcast.

an ArtsJournal blog