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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

From canvases to copy machines: Thousands of Rose docs restricted since May, suggesting early intention to sell art.

Published: September 4, 2009
Section: Front Page

Canvas to copies: The Lee Gallery, once occupied by works of art, now houses a lone Xerox machine.  The copier is being used as part of the process to restrict access to documents pertaining to the Rose Art Museum.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

Canvas to copies: The Lee Gallery, once occupied by works of art, now houses a lone Xerox machine. The copier is being used as part of the process to restrict access to documents pertaining to the Rose Art Museum.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Though the Rose Art Museum officially reopened in July, the Lee Gallery at the Museum has been empty of art since May 17. The gallery that used to house vibrant works of art now acts as a waiting room for over 7,000 documents pertaining to the Museum’s artwork.

The documents are waiting to be copied by a Xerox machine – now the gallery’s sole occupant – before before they are transfered to Brandeis’ Office of the General Council, where they will be reviewed by the university’s lawyers in preparation for a lawsuit filed against the university in July.

But the university’s May decision to restrict access to all materials related to the Rose Art Museum may signify university administrators are more willing to sell the museum’s collection than they previously admitted.

The university’s counsel is “currently engaging in a thorough review of all [the university’s] documents pertaining to the Museum” in preparation for the lawsuit filed by three Rose benefactors, university General Counsel Judith Sizer wrote in an e-mail message to The Hoot explaining the restriction.

In reality, the lawsuit, which was filed by Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee, and Lois Foster in order to obtain a court injunction preventing the university from closing the Rose Art Museum or selling its collection, was filed on July 27, a full two months after the documents were restricted.

Meryl Rose, who is a member of the museum’s Board of Overseers and a plaintiff in the suit, said the concept that the documents were being reviewed for the suit “is a complete and total lie.”

“How would they know we were going to sue? They were planning to sell,” she said.

Many of the documents in question outline donor intent of corresponding works of art, and would be crucial in determining if the university is legally able to sell individual pieces. Other restricted documents deal with the intent of donors who helped build the Rose, which is an underlying issue in the current suit against the university.

Either way, the notion that the university was moving ahead with plans to sell artwork in May is incongruous with the events of last spring.

Reinharz retracted his statement about selling the museum’s art in a Jan. 28 town hall meeting in which he said “we have no particular mandate from the Board [of Trustees] as to when to sell or how to sell.”

“Nothing impels me, nothing impels us, to do anything,” he said.

Eight days later, at a student press conference, Reinharz reiterated that the university was not required to sell the art and that it would only do so if it was financially necessary, saying “The Board never talked about selling the collection, they gave us the option to sell.”

Then in March, Provost Marty Krauss instated a Future of the Rose Committee in order alleviate community concern that the university was planning to sell the museum’s art.

Sizer denied that the university’s review and restriction of Rose-related museum records, library archives, and internal university records, had anything to do with preparations on the part of the university to sell artwork from the Rose.

Sizer also denied that the university’s May restriction was made in anticipation of a lawsuit.

Full access to Rose-related documents, which are now being housed in the Office of the General Counsel, will be reinstated when the university has finished its review process, Sizer wrote in her e-mail; however, Sizer would not give a date.

The university’s restriction of the Rose materials also applies to the plaintiffs of the lawsuit.

While Jonathan Lee, Director of the Board of Overseers of the Rose and a co-plaintiff in the case, said the restriction does not hinder the plaintiff’s case, he did say, “we may have to get a subpoena further down the road, if the university does not cooperate in the future.”