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the art collectors » Rose Museum Sues Brandeis to Stop Closure and Sale of Art

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Rose Museum Sues Brandeis to Stop Closure and Sale of Art

Former Brandeis President Abram Sachar (left) with the Rose Art Museum’s founding benefactors Bertha and Edward Rose (far right). Image: Rose Art Museum via Boston Globe

The battle to save the Rose Art Museum escalated Monday, when the museum’s overseers filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to halt Brandeis University from permanently shutting it down and selling off of a collection including some 7,000 works of art estimated at $350 million.

Read on for our full story and full transcript of the filed lawsuit.

In January Brandeis’ trustees announced plans to close the museum and deassess the valuable collection to help shore up an increasingly threatened university endowment (see our previous report here). Backed with the support of every major museum association, The Rose’s board quickly protested on the grounds that the museum was not a university asset and such action would be in violation of ethical codes, the charitable intentions of the museum’s founders and donors, and the law.

In a statement to the Boston Globe Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose’s overseers, explained, “The purpose of the lawsuit is to say, ‘Guess what? The art is not yours to sell,'” adding, “The university looks at this from a business perspective. This is a valuable asset, and they are going to rebalance their portfolio, as if they owned a timber stand in North Carolina. It is wrong to sell off a long-term cultural asset when you have a short-term financial problem.’’

After an outpouring of media support and much negative publicity, Brandeis quickly reacted, deployed a spin cycle announcing the formation of a committee to evaluate the future of the Rose, and that in the interim period the museum would remain open and no art work would be sold. However upon releasing their report in May, original intent was quickly apparent. In fact, Brandeis had packed the committee with pro-university backers, and did not include a single person recommended by the museum’s representatives. In response, Lee noted, “It reminds me of something like a Stalinesque show committee. These are all hand-picked people by the administration. We didn’t get to pick who represents us.” The committee voted to proceed with closing the Rose, and to let museum director Michael Rush’s tenure to expire in June, effectively removing the opposition’s leadership and eliminating a crucial managerial role necessary for the museum to function. The dismissal of a majority of museum staff followed.

Below is an excerpt from the suit (full transcript below), detailing the wishes of the museum’s overseers, Jonathan O. Lee, Lois Foster and Meryl Rose, whose family’s initial donations created the museum and its continuing endowment fund.

“WHEREFORE, the plaintiffs pray that this honorable court:

A. Issue a Short Order of Notice to Brandeis and its general counsel, returnable within 10 days of the filing of this complaint;

B. Issue a Preliminary Injunction preventing Brandeis from closing the Rose, selling any artwork in its possession, or using any of the Roses endowment funds, without further order of the Court;

C. Enter an Order declaring that Brandeis may not close the Rose Art Museum;

D. Enter an Order declaring that Brandeis may not sell any artwork of the Rose Art Museum except in its normal course of the museum’s operation and pursuant to American museum ethical codes and guidelines – that is, for the purpose of purchasing new artwork;

E. Enter an Order that the artwork, endowment and other funds donated for use in the establishment, construction, collection of artwork, payment of salaries, maintenance of the Rose Art Museum and its associated properties and may not be claimed, taken or used by Brandeis for any purpose other than the continued benefit of the Rose At Museum

F. In the alternative or in addition, enter an Order declaring that Brandeis is no longer capable of or willing to maintain the Rose Art Museum as a first rate public museum of modern and contemporary or that it has become impracticable or inappropriate to do so, and order Brandeis to turn over the artwork and endowment funds to the Rose Preservation Fund, Inc., or another appropriate organization, in order to further, as nearly as possible, the intent of Edward and Bertha Rose and of those many donors who followed in their lead.”

Further supporting the museum’s claims, are several Exhibits within the court filing, including a 1968 letter from Edward Rose, singed and agreed to by Brandeis President Abram Sachar.  As highlighted over on Culturegrrl, the correspondence clearly reveals the Rose’s original intent for the museum’s endowment, stipulating that all “income only be used to acquire additions to the collection for the Bertha C. and Edward Rose Museum,” and that “net proceeds of sale of items from the Museum collection shall be treated in the same way.”

What is also clear from reading through the numerous letters is the strong relationship and mutual admiration between Rose and Sachar. In fact, in his will, Edward Rose’s first order, before all else, was to gift a pair of diamond and sapphire cufflinks “to my friend Abram L. Sachar.” And so, nearly fifty years later, what began with a close friendship and common goal, will likely end in a legal battle to keep the Rose alive.

The Rose Art Museum

Posted by ATARMS | Filed in Market Talk, Museums, Politics, Uncategorized

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