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MeTube: Rose Art Museum (and its former director) in Recovery Mode

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Friday brought the news that Michael Rush, whose embattled directorship at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University ended on June 30, 2009, has landed firmly on his feet as the newly appointed founding director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University, scheduled to open in 2012. The university’s president, Lou Anna Simon, described Rush as the “essential missing piece” for the new facility, complementing its deep-pocketed, eponymous sponsors and world-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid.

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Michael Rush, founding director, Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University

What’s good for Michael is good for CultureGrrl, because I now have a news peg for this report of my visit last week to the Rose, which is rebounding from its near-death experience. I’ll conclude this post with a CultureGrrl Video of my conversation with the museum’s de facto director (officially, “director of operations”), Roy Dawes, and its recently appointed director of academic programs, Dabney Hailey.

I dropped in, impromptu, on my way home after viewing the new Norman Foster addition to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. (Patience, art-lings! I’ll take you there in a future post.) After I made my presence known to a student receptionist, I was joined by Roy and Dabney. By the time we met, I had admired most of the Rose’s two very hastily but expertly assembled and rewarding exhibitions—“Waterways” and “Regarding Painting” (to Apr. 3 and May 22, respectively).

Curated by Dawes, “Waterways” assembles a wide-ranging variety of works in diverse media, mostly drawn from the permanent collection. It explores several water-related themes, from the rapturous to the ominous, with works ranging from a 1924 John Marin watercolor to very recent multimedia works by Andrew Neumann, with hauntingly disturbing works by Gregory Crewdson and Sally Mann in between. The museum’s permanent indoor water feature, enhanced by the sound of spraying jets, seemed custom-made for this exhibition:

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Below is an installation shot from the lyrically beautiful part of the show. That’s a Fairfield Porter in the far distance, a green Neil Welliver in the middle and an arresting Clifford Ross photograph (on loan) of a wild waves, “Hurricane LII,” 2009, on the right:

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As you can see from the above photos, I had the museum almost to myself, which might be attributable to the timing of my visit, during the period when students were studying for finals.

“Regarding Painting,” curated by Hailey and showing off the highlights of the Rose’s collection, explores four themes, including “The Act of Painting,” with the museum’s signature “action painting,” de Kooning‘s 1961 “Untitled,” as its centerpiece:

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Reproduction of de Kooning’s “Untitled,” at the right of the entrance to the Rose
(You’ll get a view of the real thing in the video at the bottom of this post.)

The toughest and most riveting part of “Regarding Painting” is “Trauma as Subject.” Here’s Dabney standing between two of those paintings, Ana Mendieta‘s harrowing “Body Tracks,” 1982, blood and tempera paint on paper; and a particularly fine example from Robert Motherwell‘s “Elegy to the Spanish Republic” series:

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These shows were assembled in next-to-no-time because of the gaps in the exhibition schedule left when artists Bill Viola, Eric Fischl and April Gornik pulled out of one planned fall show and James Rosenquist withdrew from another. The fact that this tour de force could be pulled off so quickly was a tribute to both the resourcefulness of the curators and the resources at their disposal—the Rose’s outstanding collection. That’s Warhol‘s “Saturday Disaster,” 1964, on the right; Kelly‘s “Blue White,” 1962, in the far distance:

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Installation shot from “Regarding Painting”

In our videoed conversation, you’ll hear Roy and Dabney discuss Brandeis’ announced plans to rent parts of the collection, in deals to be brokered by Sotheby’s. (So far, no works have left the building.) They describe in some detail their laudable efforts to integrate the Rose more fully into the academic life of the university, so that no one ever again regards the museum, once targeted for closure, as expendable.

Dawes told me he hadn’t “heard a peep from Sotheby’s” about any rental nibbles. He regards the fact that Hailey’s new position was created and that a search committee has been formed to find a new permanent director for the Rose as signs that the financially pressed university is committed to the museum’s future. Hailey (speaking off-camera but on-the-record) also takes encouragement from the fact that Brandeis’ incoming president, Frederick Lawrence (who starts on Jan. 1), is “very involved in the arts community. I enjoyed looking at art with him. He was very insightful.”

According to Dawes, an expansion designed by Shigeru Ban several years ago (but now on hold) is still not off the table.

In fact, here it is, on the table:

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Model of Shigeru Ban’s proposed Rose expansion, on display at the museum

The university’s spokesperson, Andrew Gully, told me in an e-mail this week that the Sotheby’s plan is still alive but “those discussions are confidential.” As for the university’s difficult financial situation, which prompted the interest in monetizing the art collection, Gully stated:

The university developed a five-year financial plan that will achieve a
balanced operating budget by 2014 and we saw our endowment reach $657.3
million on Oct. 31—92% of its pre-crash value of $712
million in June 2008. At the same time, we are continuing to work with a
$10 million-$15 million structural deficit.

  Now for some good news. Here are Roy and Dabney: 

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