I’m still reeling from the news that Brandeis University has announced the closing of the Rose Art Museum. Once a bastion of painterly painting under Carl Belz’s visionary directorship, the Rose has been a cherished art destination for me for many years. The building, designed by Philip Johnson, is small and not one of Johnson’s best works by any means. But the sensibility Belz brought to the place was exemplary. Judy Pfaff, Joan Snyder and a number of other important women artists were championed by Belz early in that particular visibility curve.
The outcry has been overwhelming. From the New York Times today:
The Massachusetts attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it planned to conduct a detailed review of Brandeis University’s surprise decision to sell off the entire holdings of its Rose Art Museum, one of the most important collections of postwar art in New England.
The decision to close the 48-year-old museum in Waltham, Mass., and disperse the collection as a way to shore up the university’s struggling finances was denounced by the museum’s board, its director and a wide range of art experts, who warned that the university was cannibalizing its cultural heritage to pay its bills.
“This is one of the artistic and cultural legacies of American Jewry,” said Jonathan Lee, the chairman of the museum’s board of overseers, who said that “nobody at the museum — neither the director nor myself nor anyone else — was informed of this or had any idea what was going on.”
This account from the Wall Street Journal (with an excerpt posted on Slow Painting), also caught me:
The National Academy and MOCA did come perilously close to “going away,” due to financial circumstances specific to them that predated the general economic collapse.
The academy clawed its way back from the edge by selling two Hudson River School paintings — its most important Frederic Church and its only Sanford Gifford — to raise about $13.5 million for operations. By the time its desperation-driven plan to sell came to light on Dec. 5…the paintings were already gone — withdrawn from the public domain by an unidentified private foundation.
In making this risky move, the museum forfeited not only AAMD membership but also art loans from and collaborations with institutions that obey the strong recommendation of the association’s board. “These objects are there for the collective cultural patrimony of the people who live in this country. They are not fungible assets,” Mr. Conforti [president of the Association of Art Museum Directors] declared.
“These objects are there for the collective cultural patrimony of the people who live in this country. They are not fungible assets.”
Is that true?
My son, ever the devil’s advocate, wants to know details about the collection being sold before he mourns its loss. He’s young and iconoclastic, very distrustful about how art institutions and their collusive insider taste makers determine what is valuable and what is not.
Yeah, I’m cynical too. But I do know some of the holdings at the Rose. And the thought that those works will be gone is crushing to me.
What’s the answer? As the financial infrastructures needed to keep our culturecraft afloat continue to disintegrate, the solution is not simple. But I still feel bereft.
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