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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose Art catalogue release celebrates museum history amid uncertain future

Published: October 16, 2009
Section: Front Page

<i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Brandeis University recently released a catalogue of its permanent collection entitled “The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis” to honor the museum’s upcoming 50th anniversary in 2011. The book was produced as a celebration of the Rose’s history and the museum’s now unknown future, which currently lies in the hands of the university’s provost, board of trustees and the Suffolk Probate Court.

The idea for a book about the Rose originally came to Anne Tannebaum in 2007 as a member of the Museum’s Board of Overseers who had been working at publishing company Abrams Books since graduating from Brandeis in1966.

“I just thought how beneficial it would be to the museum if we had a catalogue published on the collection,” Tannebaum said.

The university was “keen on the idea,” and a contract was signed in 2008, she said.

The book was paid for, in part, through donations, and former Director of the Rose Art Museum Michael Rush helped author the book, which was finished in 2009. The book, which is divided into six chapters by artistic styles, highlights 196 of the 7,183 works in the museum.

Then, on Jan. 26 President Jehuda Reinharz made an announcement that the university’s Board of Trustees had authorized the close of the Rose Art Museum and the sale of its artwork in order to alleviate what would be the university’s $23 million budget gap by 2014.

Though Reinharz has since announced that the museum will stay open and that the Board is only considering the sale of artwork, his initial announcement worried Rush.

“The book was mostly written by then,” Rush said. “It was done and at the printers, but our biggest fears were that it would go down the drain after that announcement.”

The book was published, despite the international media firestorm that followed Reinharz’s initial announcement, and in an effort to reassure the university and the art world of Brandeis’ commitment to the arts, university Provost Marty Krauss created a Committee for the Future of the Rose Art Museum in March that was to discuss how to better integrate the museum into the university’s academic mission.

The Committee issued its report on Sept. 22, showing what Krauss calls “a compelling new vision for how The Rose could be greater if it collaborated with the academic aspects of the university.”

The report recommends that academic departments collaborate with the museum when it is planning its shows in order to produce exhibits that are relevant to current coursework.

In the book “The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis,” descriptions of paintings show that the museum does have a history of collaboration with the university. Many of the artists whose paintings are included in the book showed their work at the museum multiple times, and some artists have cultivated relationships with other aspects of the university. Helen Frankenthaler, for example, was awarded an honorary degree by the university.

The report also suggests that at least one of the museum’s three galleries show from the museum’s permanent collection at all times, and recommends that the university hire a full time curator and director for the museum.

The report avoided the issue of whether the university should sell pieces of artwork from the museum in order to offset the university’s current financial crisis, saying that decision lies solely with the Board of Trustees.

“This is just a recommendation committee. It does not have the authority to make any of this happen,” Krauss said. The Board has yet to make a decision about the sale of artwork because the threat of sale prompted three of the museum’s Board of Overseers to sue the university in late July.

A hearing for two motions in the case—one filed by the university to dismiss, and the other filed by the plaintiffs for a preliminary injunction—was held on Tuesday in Suffolk Probate Court.

At the motion, Associate Justice Jeremy Stahlin denied the motion to dismiss and ordered a preliminary injunction that prevents the university from selling up to 500 of the 7,183 works of art in the museum.

Also at the hearing, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office announced the opening of a civil investigation into the university’s decision to sell art from the museum, and announced the university would be required to give the Attorney General’s office 30 days notice before it sells any work of art from the museum.

Stahlin’s decision and the Attorney General’s announcement very well may be part of the discussion at the university Board of Trustee’s Oct. 28 meeting, in which they could discuss the sale of artwork from the museum. Krauss also said the Board would discuss which of the recommendations for the Committee for the Future of the Rose to implement at that meeting.

On that same day, The Rose Art Museum will open an exhibit from its permanent collection, and hold a party for the official release of the book.

Director of Museum Operations Roy Dawes said the set up of the exhibition is directly related to the book—the galleries will be divided in the same categories as the chapters of the book to “follow the catalogue.”

“The exhibit is meant to be a celebration of the catalogue that is in turn a celebration of the collection,” Dawes said.

Betsy Pfau, a member of the museum’s Board of Overseers and the Committee for the Future of The Rose Art Museum, said she hopes that the book will serve as “a reminder of how great the collection is, for better or for worse.”

“We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that the book will serve as a rallying cry,” she said, “not a death knell.”