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Rose Blows: Rosenquist Pulls Out of Brandeis Commitment

Brandeis in the fall

Brandeis University’s embattled Rose Art Museum finds itself without a fall show…again.

The Boston Globe reported today that James Rosenquist suddenly had second thoughts about supplying his works for a one-man show that had been hastily scheduled at the embattled museum after three other artists—Bill Viola, Eric Fischl and April Gornik—had abruptly pulled out of an exhibition of their works that had been scheduled to open in September. Their decision had been a gesture of protest against Brandeis’ refusal to renounce any future sales of works from its collection to address the university’s financial shortfalls.

The Globe’s Geoff Edgers writes:

Rosenquist said that complications in the aftermath of a fire last year,
which destroyed his Florida home and studio, about $18 million worth of
art, and personal items, have made it too difficult for him to
participate in the exhibition, which was to have opened Sept. 22
featuring some of his massive paintings, along with other works.

Well, maybe the devastation of last year’s fire suddenly loomed larger than it had just a couple of weeks ago (scroll down), when the show was a “definite” go. Or maybe, despite his public assertion to the contrary, Rosenquist’s second thoughts also had something to do with his increased misgivings about the museum’s permanent-collection controversy. He shared some of that with Edgers:

In recent weeks, …he vacillated, particularly after talking with
Jonathan Lee, one of several members of the Rose’s board of overseers
who is suing Brandeis to block any sale of artworks. At one point
recently, Rosenquist said, he demanded a similar written promise from
the university not to sell works.

Brandeis insists that some kind of show will somehow go on, but two months is a paltry lead time for putting together a new loan show. It’s almost a given that contemporary artists will be leery of cooperating with Brandeis after all the controversy and chaos.

I guess the staff (what’s with that Audrey Flack picture?) may just have to rely on that permanent collection that the university has been thinking of selling and is now trying (at least in part) to monetize through Sotheby’s-brokered rentals. Anything that forces the university to focus on the collection’s educational value to its own community could be a good thing.

For now, maybe the university’s and the museum’s officials should reread this statement at the end of the account of the Rose’s history on its own website:

The Rose has accomplished in its short life what many institutions can
only dream of. The dream of the Rose is to honor its unique and
inestimable collection, exhibiting it in ever new and experimental ways
and enhancing it with the inexhaustible generosity of donors and the
keen, experienced eyes of its caretakers.

So be it.

an ArtsJournal blog