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the art collectors » Amidst Controversy, Brandeis Weighs Renting Rose Collection

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Amidst Controversy, Brandeis Weighs Renting Rose Collection

A sign erected by protesters on the night of a public hearing at the Rose Art Museum in February of last year. (Sarah Ewick via Bostonist)

Nearly a year and a half after Brandeis came under attack for voting to shore up university funds by closing down and selling off the Rose’s collection, the future of the museum still remains in question. After flip-flopping under pressure on its initial decision, Brandeis’ board is now considering renting out works from the Rose to generate income for the university.

In a press release dated May 28 and first reported by the Boston Globe, Brandeis announced that it was taking steps to “explore a range of alternatives to the sale of art from the Rose Art Museum in an effort to generate value from a portion of the collection while still maintaining ownership of the artwork.” More specifically, University President, Jehuda Reinharz, revealed that Brandeis was already “in discussions with Sotheby’s to solicit advice on non-sale partnerships, lending agreements and other creative solutions in the fundraising arena.”

To be clear, “lending” is less than upfront terminology to describe the potential plan. Simply put, Brandeis may be close to renting out portions of the 7,000+ piece Rose collection for profit.

Though the recent announcement makes sure to clarify that “Brandeis is committed to using a portion of any proceeds it realizes from art in the Rose Art Museum to directly benefit both the museum and the university’s Department of Fine Arts,” this really seems like lip service. It is abundantly clear that the universities’ motivation remains unchanged  – to offset the economic troubles of Brandeis (not the Rose) by leveraging its control over the Rose’s collection as a cash-asset. No one who has been following these developments since last January has any doubt where the majority of any such revenue would end up – with the financially burdened university, and not with the Rose.

Furhtermore, while the university emphasizes that it would “Ideally…continue to own the art but find an innovative way to get value from it,” and that they have “not sold any art since that vote, and will not do so while it examines non-sale alternatives,” no guarantees have been given. In fact, Brandies has already cut a deal with Christies to put works on the auction block, if it ultimately decides to permanently shutter the Rose and deassess the collection.

Lee Rosenbaum (who has been diligently shedding light on the story since its beginning) makes some insightful new suggestions over on CultureGrrl – that preference should be given to Boston-area museums or educational institutions, that under no circumstances should Rose works be lent for private use by collectors or corporations, and that the core collection of important works from the collection should remain on campus, with the right to borrow back works from renters for educational or exhibition purposes.

For those who haven’t been following, the battle over the Rose began in January of last year, after Brandeis’ trustees announced it would close the museum and sell off its $350 million collection to insulate an increasingly threatened university endowment (see our previous reports here and here) which was hit hard by the global recession and Madoff scheme. With the support of every major museum association, The Rose’s board fired back on the grounds that the museum was not a university asset and such action would be in violation of the intentions of the museum’s founders, donors and established ethical codes. Controversy escalated further in July when museum overseers filed a lawsuit (read the full transcript here) to halt Brandeis from moving forward with its plans. While Brandeis has held off selling any art or closing the museum, they did fire the majority of the Rose’s staff, including the museum’s director, who has been outspoken against the university’s actions.

The proposed rental plan is certainly less egregious than the initial move to close the museum and toss its important public collection to the highest bidder. Moving forward, if Brandeis were willing to adhere to some ethical guidelines, like those proposed by Rosenbaum, at least it would allow for the Rose to remain a vital and active public institution, and carry out its original mission, as envisioned by its founders and early benefactors when it opened its doors in 1961.

Posted by ATARMS | Filed in Collections, Legal, Market Talk, Museums, Uncategorized

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