Posts Tagged ‘rose art museum’

“Plundering” the Rose Art Museum

March 17, 2009

 The NY Times reports that the name benefactors of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum have spoken out against the planned “repositioning” of the museum and called such an action a “plundering” of the collection. The University’s trustees have been under fire since January when it voted to sell off the museum’s significant art collection to raise revenue for the University’s financial shortfall. There has been widespread criticism of the decision.

Meryl Rose, a representative of the Rose family for whom the museum is named, suggested that the damage done to the museum’s reputation would remain even if it is not closed to the public. She asks, “What donor would give a piece of art that might be sold to pay for administrative expenses?

Museum Family Denounces Brandeis

Punishing the Child for the Sins of the Parent; Another Note on the Rose Art Museum

February 2, 2009

When the story of the closing of the Rose Art Museum came out, it initially struck me as rather different from the recent deaccessioning of artwork that has occurred at other museums. It wasn’t just the fact that an entire institution is to be closed, an entire collection dispersed, but the odd thing was that the museum itself is not to blame. From the information available, the museum appears to be a well managed institution that received little if any support from Brandeis University. The Rose is being closed because of the errors, mistakes and bad luck of its parent organization, rather than anything attributable to its own administration. If anything, it appears to be a model educational museum. It is quite a contrast to the recent deaccessionment controversy of the National Academy and the LA MoCA “bailout.”

In the context of the Rose Art Museum, Roberta Smith clearly enuciates these issues in the Times this week. The article sums up the overall situation well and also provides a overview of the museum, its benefactors, the significance of the collection and the effect of the closing upon art students at Brandeis.

In the Closing of Brandeis Museum, a Stark Statement of Priorities

Brandeis Board of Trustees

Update 2/5/2009:  Carol Vogel and Randy Kennedy report in the Times that efforts to prevent the museum’s closure have begun.

The Source of Cultural Deaccessioning

January 29, 2009

As asserted in this space prior, art is our cultural patrimony. It is a critical part of our identity and history as a culture. The cultural objects of antiquity are held in particular reverence and some countries have passed laws that prevent private ownership of these works. These ancient objects were once new as well and contemporary artworks are the antiquities of the future. But, we are fortunate these days because much of our art is publicly accessible in near contemporaneous time, whereas many antiquities were objects of private use during their early existence.

Regardless, once they make their way into the public consciousness, revered historical objects become a part of the cultural identity and a source of common connection within society. When such an object is removed from public access, whether by destruction or other means, a palpable void can exist. For example, the removal of marble statuary and friezes from the Parthanon in Athens has left many Greeks feeling as if a part of their personal identity has been taken from them. (The marbles were removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century and are now in the British Museum). Barring this type of separation or destruction, each generation serves as custodian of the cultural object and passes it along to the next, with the associations intact and perhaps further cultivated. In this way, art is a larger cultural version of the treasured objects that a pass down through a family, from generation to generation. These objects, sometimes just ordinary articles of daily use, are embedded with meanings beyond their mere physicality.

The situation at Brandeis University and the decision of the trustees to close the Rose Art Museum has been an ongoing point of discussion and seems to have developed broader significance. The museum accumulated a notable collection of contemporary art. As a whole, the collection represents a period of extraordinary growth in American Art. It reflects the social adjustments that occurred for women in the mid to late 20th century and also the ways in which Americans’ perception of the world changed during the time. In particular, many of the works in the collection are related to the self-reflexive perspective that American art developed in the mid to late 20th century. Regardless of the apparent subject matter of each work, this artwork is speaking to us about ourselves; how we perceive the larger culture. It is not unlike an antique family salt box. On the outside it is a only a container for salt, but it also represents the daily work of cooking for a family, and by extension the times when that accomplishment was a difficult one. It may represent, ultimately, the existence of the family by the continuation of salt and sustenance, in the form of the associated container. The function of art is closer to pure communication. Its function is to hold the thoughts and perceptions of a culture, and to some extent, its history. What value does such an object have? At what point does its monetary value exceed its more elusive value as a cultural container?

Consider if the Brandeis trustees found themselves, individually, experiencing financial difficulties like many people are these days. Tough decisions would have to be made; expenses cut, non-essentials deferred. When our trustee gets to the point where he needs to sell some of his property to meet his basic needs, then…if the monetary values were the same, which would he sell first, the new Mercedes or the antique family salt box? Which has more intrinsic value?

I argue that most people would sell the Mercedes first, regardless of which object brought in more cash. They may even sell their own home before the salt box, even if the box could fetch a fair price at auction. For many people, such objects have a clear value beyond the monetary. This is how many people feel about the Rose Art Museum and other institutions that have or are deaccessioning their artwork. The sale of these works are, in essence, the sale of a piece of the culture and contain the possibility that the object will be forever removed from public access. From this perspective, the sale of a museum collection should be a last option, not a first, as it appears to be at Brandeis.

Despite the existence of the art market, why is selling art that has moved into the public sphere an acceptable practice? As communication, the more people that have access to the work, the more effectively the culture can relate to itself. If the culture–and society–is to be healthy and progressive, then this communication should not be inhibited. My contention is that too many people in this society are unable to interpret the communication of art. Art illiteracy is, in some way, cultural illiteracy. Without art education, whether it is in the form of studio practice, theory or history, the voice of art is lost to many. The function of art theory and art history education is obvious, but studio practice is significant as well. The act of creating an artwork involves not just technical choices and skill, but also conceptual decisions. By learning about the conceptual decisions that artists make, one begins to understand that there are no true accidents in art. Everything and anything within the work is there with intent.

Art education, particularly studio practice and theory, introduces students to the process of multi-dimensional thinking. To understand a work of art, one must begin to think like the artist and consider the choices made in creating the work. The artist, of course, exists in a culture and must be understood within the context of that culture. By extension, art can take on additional meanings when viewed from an alternative perspective, another culture. Clearly, there are many flaws in the art education that does exist, but the near complete lack of it has, I contend, brought about the willingness to deaccession and sell publiclly accessible artworks–and result in the scattering of our cultural discussion.


19th Century image of the parthanon

19th Century image of the Parthenon, probably 1804 or later.










Just for reference:  

The New Acropolis Museum, opening in the Spring of 2009.


Thanks to those that initiated and participated in this discussion.

(Revised 1/30/2009)


When Museums Sell Art

January 22, 2009

In the past month or so there has been a series of articles in the New York Times about the financial troubles of art museums. Some major catastrophes seem to have been averted for the immediate future, but the primary issue of concern is the practice of deaccessioning artwork. This is nothing new, but considering the times, it is likely to become more common. In the practice of deaccessioning, artwork may sold to ease financial difficulties or it may be sold for the purpose or raising funds to purchase other artworks. Deaccessioning is a controversial practice on several angles, particularly when works of art are sold for a reason less than the life-or-death of the institution.

When works are sold for the purpose of purchasing another–in theory, an artwork with a higher culture value–the decision is subject to the perspective of the times. How many times has an object been disregarding in one period, when its style is unfashionable, but is later understood to be particularly significant? It is something that happens with a certain frequency in the history of art.

When works are sold for the purpose of raising funds it brings into question the function of the museum. Museums, for good or bad, are increasingly more like commercial or corporate entities. American museums, unlike those in some other countries, typically charge a substantial entrance fee. Prominent museums may have trusts and other sources of relatively stable income. Of course, museums are under pressure from both external and internal factors to draw more visitors, and hence, ticket fees. Is the proper purpose of the museum, then, a source of revenue or that of a permanent guardian of cultural patrimony?

Regardless, there are several reason why anyone who cares about art and cultural heritage should be concerned about this practice. One, if the artwork is sold into a private collection, the public, in all likelihood loses access to it. Art is culture and it belongs to the world, particularly when it has reached the stature of a museum piece. It should be available for public access, even if it is not always on view.

Two, museums sometimes acquire work by donation. When artwork is donated to a museum, the probable intent was something akin to a public gift. (Okay, some people do it for the tax benefit). Some museum collections are enhanced by gifts given by the artist personally (who can only claim the actual cost of the materials for tax purposes). Artists may be less likely to donate their work, especially to smaller regional institutions, if the museum may later sell it off. Some donors, collectors or artists, may be able to circumvent to possibility of a later sale of the work by making a permanent loan, rather than a donation. Of course there is likely to be no tax benefit from such a loan.

Third, the deaccessioning of artwork seems to be simply counter to the role that museums are perceived to have in this society. The general belief is that museums hold a charitable position in society and exist for the benefit of society. Museums have a particularly important position in maintaining the cultural patrimony of the world. When bits are sold off, the institution itself is diminished…and historical communication of art becomes increasingly available only for the few.


Museums Look Inward for Their Own Bailouts

Whose Rules Are These, Anyway?

Branded a Pariah, the National Academy Is Struggling to Survive

National Academy Sells Two Hudson River School Paintings to Bolster It’s Finances

UPDATE:  January 27, 2009

The NY Times reports that Brandeis University will close the Rose Museum and sell the art collection.  The purpose?  To improve the university’s financial situation.  The museum contains numerous contemporary works including those of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Mathew Barney, Cindy Sherman, Helen Frankenthaler, Kiki Smith and others.

Read the Times article here.

The Rose Art Museum

At the time of this posting, neither the university or the museum has published a statement on its website about the closing.