Brandeis University issues Rose Art Museum report (updated)


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I finally had a moment to read the interim report of the Brandeis University committee charged with examining options for the school’s widely admired Rose Art Museum, which was released late Thursday. Brandeis’ administration ignited a firestorm in January when it announced a plan to close the museum and sell the collection, valued at more than $300 million, to deal with the impact of the global economic crisis on the university’s bottom line. If no news is good news, the interim report is very good news indeed.

Which is to say, the six-page document says almost nothing we didn’t already know. A full review of options is planned for completion next fall.


Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose’s board of overseers and a fierce critic of the university’s plan (he’s not on the committee), had harsh words for the report. ‘It reminds me of something like a Stalinesque show committee,’ Lee told the Boston Globe. Ouch -- yet not necessarily off the mark, since the school’s blundering administration picked the participants but didn’t ask the museum to recommend members.

Here’s the document’s most important statement: ‘[Although] not desirable, it is possible to sell works of art for budget relief and to remain a public museum. We have been considering how best to go ahead on both these fronts.’

Yes, legally it is quite possible to sell museum art and pay the university’s bills with the income. Ethically, however, it’s repulsive. (It’s sort of like all those off-shore tax havens American corporations use to avoid paying their fair share -- legal but corrupt.) And once the dirty deed is done, who will want to support a repulsive museum?

I can’t wait to see how the committee plans to go ahead on both those fronts. In the meantime, read the report here.

UPDATE: Links to some earlier commentaries on the practice of deaccessioning are here, here and here.

-- Christopher Knight