Paper Trail II: Passing Through Clouds. Image via: The Rose Museum
In the name of economic hardship Brandeis University announced Monday it will close its Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection. An internationally renown museum, the 8,000 object collection includes work by such contemporary stars as Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, and Nan Goldin, and Post-War masters including Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Nam June Paik. Closing the universities budget deficit, which is said to be upwards of 10 million dollars was cited as the rationale behind the decision.
To say that these decisions raise a few questions seems an understatement at best. For one, the Brandeis Museum has relatively small budget concerns compared to other Universities. Cornell for example has seen its endowment drop 27% in the last six months and is now pulling $150 million from their reserves. Also, it has to be noted that the sale of just one major work in the collection, (the nearly 6 foot tall early Lichtenstein or the Rauschenberg Combine currently on display for example), would return enough money to close the gap the University has disclosed. It’s possible however, that like many other institutionally run museums, is contractually obligated to funnel that money back into the collection, which would explain at least one small aspect of that decision.
This sort of short sighted economic problem solving represents a problem to any university, but it’s particularly acute in the case of the Rose Museum, given its stature. Painter Dana Schutz’ first museum solo show, for example, was mounted there in 2006 and ran concurrently with a Matthew Barney exhibited. Major shows by John Armleder in 2007 and Fred Tomaselli in 2005 have occurred within recent years, and amongst the historical highlights, Joseph Cornell had a solo show at the Rose in 1968, and received an award from Brandeis.
Shedding no light on the motivations behind this decision, University President Jehuda Reinharz made the following statement to The Boston Globe,
“This is not a happy day in the history of Brandeis,” President Jehuda Reinharz said tonight. “The Rose is a jewel. But for the most part it's a hidden jewel. It does not have great foot traffic and most of the great works we have, we are just not able to exhibit. We felt that, at this point given the recession and the financial crisis, we had no choice.”
But even if foot traffic were a measure of success, as 16 Miles of String points out, it’s hard to believe the museum receives any less than many other departments. Also, since when does any museum exhibit all the great works they have? Jerry Saltz just wrote an article about why recessions are a great time to show off works in museum collections infrequently shown. Could the university not just cut costs at the museum rather than liquidating “nearly half a century of public trust?”
Update: Geoff Edgers in this morning’s Boston Globe has more on the story.
Update: Greg Cook reports the State Attorney General’s office has not signed off on the sale.