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Rose Blows: Protest Withdrawal by Three Artists from Brandeis Museum&#146s Fall Show

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On the Outskirts: The Rose Art Museum on the Brandeis campus map

Last Wednesday I reported that Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum had suddenly subbed a Rosenquist exhibition for its previously announced fall show, “Atmospheric Conditions,” which was to have featured works by Bill Viola, Eric Fischl and April Gornik.

The museum’s website had said (and still says, at this writing) that the original show was postponed due to “scheduling conflicts.” I suggested last week that this development was “perhaps another sympton of [the Rose's] disarray.”

On Saturday, the Boston Globe‘s indispensable Geoff Edgers moved the ball down the field. Edgers reports:

Three artists whose work was to be featured in a September show at the
Rose Art Museum are pulling out until Brandeis University makes a
legally binding promise to preserve the campus museum’s valuable
permanent collection.

Bill Viola, a renowned video artist, and painters April Gornik and Eric
Fischl have postponed the show “Atmospheric Conditions” until Brandeis
administrators sign an agreement not to sell art from the collection,
according to Gornik.

Rosenquist, who stepped into the breach, told Edgers that he opposes sales from the Rose’s collection, but regards the other artists’ withdrawal as “a knee-jerk reaction from them. I’m having a show there that will put a spotlight on
the museum, and maybe they won’t sell anything. I’d rather do that than
be negative and pull out and let it dry up.”

So who’s right?

I applaud Viola, Fischl and Gornik for their principled stand, which may put a brighter spotlight on the university’s stubborn insistence on keeping open the option of liquidating some or all of the collection to fund the financially challenged university’s operations.

But I agree with Rosenquist. I don’t think the trio’s symbolic gesture will alter the university’s stance. And punishing the museum and its audience (including its students) is to no one’s advantage. It’s important for the Rose to maintain its identity as a going concern and a vital educational resource.

Then again, an astute commenter on Edgers’ article also has a point worth taking:

The best thing the Rose can do is keep as much of its permanent
collection on the walls (as it was this past year). This way, everyone
can see what an unparalleled resource has been put in jeopardy….

The display of billboard-sized canvases will consign much of the
collection to storage, as was typically the case in recent years, when
the exhibition galleries were mostly given over to cutting-edge
installations. These generated art world buzz, but also served to make
the collection appear accessory, expendable and disposable—divorced
from the life of the university, an asset to be sold or leased.

Like any museum, the Rose should find a way to do both—temporary exhibitions, complemented by selections from the its own important holdings. The Rosenquist show, opening in late September (no specific date announced), may do just that: Its description states that it will include both works supplied by the artist and additional Rosenquists, “drawn from the Rose’s collection.”

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James Rosenquist

an ArtsJournal blog