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Rose reopening marks new era

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Featured, Front Page


More than two years after the university’s decision to close The Rose because of a widening budget gap and shrinking endowment launched an international controversy and media frenzy, Brandeis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the art museum this week.

Inside The Rose, the $1.7 million renovation project created freshly painted white walls, new LED lighting systems and energy efficient glass to showcase the contemporary art collection that came to define Brandeis and its former president in the international arts community.

Just as June 30 marked the end of the settlement with Rose benefactors—the university’s decision not to sell any artwork, Thursday marked the official beginning of a new era for Brandeis, President Fred Lawrence said.

“Welcome to the beginning of the second 50 years of The Rose Art Museum,” Lawrence said at a VIP dinner with trustees, artists and alumni underneath a heated, circus-like tent Wednesday evening. “Things already look bigger than they used to look and they hold much more promise than they used to hold.”

Less than a year after his announcement on Jan. 26, 2009, that the university’s board of trustees had voted to close The Rose and sell its art, Jehuda Reinharz stepped down as president without mentioning The Rose as a reason for his resignation.

When Reinharz announced the decision to sell the art, Brandeis was suffering from the global economic recession that had decreased endowment by 17 percent, leaving an anticipated $80 million budget deficit by 2014 if no cuts were made. Reflecting on the decision on his final days in office last year, Reinharz said that after lay-offs, Brandeis looked to art for revenue.

“People may criticize that, but I would ask my critics: ‘Would you give up your job, or someone else’s job, to save some art?’ If the answer is yes, I would like to meet that person,” Reinharz told The Hoot in December 2010. “I’m here until the 31st.”

Last summer, Lawrence began meeting with interim director Roy Dawes and the Rose benefactors who filed the lawsuit, attempting to resolve the crisis that had angered many students, faculty and alumni in the Brandeis community, as well as sparked fear and outrage at Brandeis.

The university has framed the revival of The Rose as a direct result of Lawrence’s effective leadership and one of the major accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.

Dawes said he recalled a conversation when Lawrence told him, “A museum on a university campus is a sacred thing.”

“I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders that day,” Dawes said in front of students, alumni, faculty and friends of Brandeis Thursday evening.

While the anger directed at Brandeis spread across the globe over the artwork debacle, inside the university, it was also errors in decision-making and communications that angered students, faculty and other officials.

Although it recognized the difficulties of closing budget gaps during a recession, The New York Times was one of multiple media organizations that launched a spiraling media firestorm for the university and its management leaders who knew little about art and the reaction to closing the museum.

“The donors who made such purchases possible almost certainly did not think of them as temporary gifts to be cashed in during hard times,” the Times wrote in an editorial Feb. 1, 2009. “They thought of them as gifts in perpetuity, a way of enriching students, visitors and the wider community able to see works from the Brandeis collection on loan to other museums.”

Speaking at an elegant gourmet trustees dinner with fruit salsa appetizers filled with pineapple, beats and tomatoes, seared white fish and chocolate raspberry mousse cake; with tables covered in neon orange and yellow flowers, long pink tablecloths and with glowing magenta and blue lights to illuminate three TV screens with a glowing “Rose Art Museum at Fifty” message, artist James Rosenquist said, “I want to congratulate The Rose Museum on its great comeback.”

Rosenquist spoke about the passion that drives artists like himself, explaining how the arts community can feel unrecognized and excluded

“Artists appear, work like hell, give everything away and disappear, and that’s a track record,” Rosenquist said. “We do good work and there’s no demand for it and there’s only a few of us left.”

He added that the purpose of arts was to express ideas over imagery.

“A whole number of ideas get me off the chair to do something,” Rosenquist said. “Every painting has an idea.”

As part of the 50th anniversary, The Rose showcased three new exhibits including “Art at the Origin,” Bruce Conner’s film series “EVE-RAY-FOREVER” and “Collecting Stories.”

Adam Weinberg ’77 called The Rose “one of the great collections of post World War II art,” adding that “the center of my life at the university was at The Rose Art Museum.

After more than three hours of dining and drinking with trustees and other guests at Wednesday’s gala, Rosenquist interpreted many paintings on a slideshow differently than Weinberg.

“The spectator and the traveler looking at something at the speed of light see it differently,” Rosenquist said. “It’s all visual. It’s things that happen to all of us all the time.”

On Wednesday, Lawrence walked around the tent, talking with trustees and artists about the new future of The Rose and Brandeis.

“This is not a story with an unhappy ending. This is a story with a new beginning,” he said on Thursday.