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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose art not for sale, maybe for rent

Published: May 27, 2010
Section: Front Page

Brandeis’ board of trustees is in discussions with Sotheby’s, the New York art auction house, in order to determine non-sale options that would generate money from The Rose Art Museum’s collection.

While members of the university administration said they did not know what these “non-sale” agreements would look like, university President Jehuda Reinharz said “some sort of leasing the art or lending it for compensation is not off the table.”

Reinharz added that while actual sale of the art has “not been taken off the table,” discussions about selling The Rose’s art have been tabled until all non-sale options have been considered.

“This is not a sale by another name,” Reinharz said. “This is our art and we are not selling our art.”

Reinharz said the idea of a non-sale option has been under consideration since the board of trustees voted in January 2009 to authorize the “sale or other disposition of works from the university’s [art] collection” in order to alleviate what is now an annual $25 million budget shortfall.

Though the university has been considering this option for over a year and while there is no current concrete plan, Reinharz said the university chose to make its announcement now because “we are comfortable with Sotheby’s and believe they can find some value.”

“The deal could be anything,” Reinharz said. “We do not have a deal at this point so I cannot tell you how long it will be for, what it is, what the value is that we would get out of it. But we are at the point where we think it is realistic that a deal can be made.”

Reinharz said that a portion of potential revenue from the lending agreement would go to “directly benefit The Rose” but that revenue would also be used for the university as a whole.

The question of who receives revenue from potential art deals hits a question at the heart of the current lawsuit filed against the university by three donors to the museum, who hope to stop the sale of the museum’s art. In motions pertaining to the suit, which will go to trial Dec. 12 and 13, the university has argued that the museum is part of the university and that any profit to come from its art would also benefit the university at large. The plaintiffs have argued that the museum’s board of overseers alone can make decisions about the art and that because the museum has its own endowment, any profits that result from art deals would have to be put back into the museum.

The Hoot was given advanced information pertaining to the board’s new strategy regarding The Rose Wednesday under the condition that the newspaper not release the information until midnight of Friday night, and that it only contact certain members of the Brandeis community. Therefore, The Hoot could not contact any plaintiffs in the suit for comment.

Persons affiliated with The Rose were informed of this change in strategy Thursday.

Roy Dawes, managing director of The Rose did not respond to requests to comment.

In a broad interview about museum lending practices, Senior Manager of Media Relations for the American Association of Museums Dewey Blanton said that while most museums lend art to other institutions relatively free of charge, “lending for compensation is not unheard of.”

In fact, collection-sharing arrangements have been practiced by a variety of other museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Louvre and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Dewey said that museums usually lend their pieces for only the charge of shipping and insurance of the pieces, but that in tough economic times lending for compensation “can be a win-win situation for the lender, who gets money, and the borrower, who gets access to new art.”

“It’s not common, but when museums ask for compensation it’s usually a sign of the economic reality rearing it’s ugly head,” he said.