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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

At the Rose, an admission that art trumps money

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

Amid the paintings and sculptures on display in the recently reopened Rose Art Museum, there’s one piece of art that clearly doesn’t belong.

It’s a small lawn sign that reads in bold red and white lettering, “ATM available inside.”

In 2009, The Rose almost became a metaphorical ATM. But thanks to the design efforts of artist Steve Miller, the sign instead reminded the campus that “Art Trumps Money.”

Stumbling on the sign in the renovated Rose Art Museum is nothing short of eerie. A small plaque accompanies the sign, but this one is unique. It doesn’t just explain the meaning of the artwork. It describes the history of the museum itself, including the Rose controversy and lawsuit and the role students and community members played in ensuring the Rose galleries were never sold to the highest bidder.

The original decision to close The Rose was made with little forethought or regard to the impact the decision would have on Brandeis’ reputation in the art community. Steve Miller’s artwork had been displayed at The Rose in 2007 and he returned to Brandeis to join the majority of community members in showing solidarity with patrons of the museum.

His work, the ATM sign, became a rallying call across campus. The community was outraged and the ATM sign focused that sentiment.

That the sign now sits among Warhols and Lichtensteins is remarkable.

But the decision to display the sign is also indicative of a changing attitude at Brandeis concerning The Rose. Brandeis administrators and trustees are no longer on edge when they discuss The Rose. They instead display a remarkable level of comfort in discussing both the original Rose decision and the reaction to it.

The damage that was done is no longer seen as an affront to Brandeis’ image. Brandeis has a new president, a new set of administrators and a new—albeit temporary—museum director. Of course, the trustees who voted to close The Rose aren’t going anywhere but, then again, they are the same people who this week celebrated the reopening. They sure aren’t about to sell the artwork.

Missing at the celebrations this week was former President Jehuda Reinharz, who became a symbol at Brandeis of the real or perceived crusade against the museum. Reinharz admitted that he “screwed up” but he never publicly acknowledged the history of the entire debate as described succinctly and candidly on the plaque accompanying Miller’s ATM sign. It was this inability to accept the narrative of the Rose debacle that kept Reinharz from rehabilitating his image.

Conventional wisdom would hold that the ceremonies marking the reopening of The Rose Art Museum are clearly all about public relations—a way of bringing closure to a saga that at one point threatened the reputation of Brandeis University.

But actions speak louder than words.

And today, by displaying the ATM sign in The Rose, Brandeis has accepted the story of The Rose’s darkest days and indicated a willingness to move forward.

Only time will tell whether The Rose remains a financial and academic priority. One indicator will be the person chosen as the next director, while another indicator will be whether donors or the university fund new acquisitions and displays at the museum.

But for now, in the galleries of The Rose sits a reminder for all to see that art trumps money.