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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Artists cancel exhibit until art is secure

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Front Page

ROSE: Artists cancelled their exhibits this summer, afraid that Brandeis will sell their art.
PHOTO Max Shay/The Hoot

Three artists whose work was to be showcased in a Rose Art Museum exhibit this semester canceled in July, saying they refuse to show at the Brandeis museum until the university signs a legally binding agreement promising not to sell any of the museum’s art.

Eric Fischl, April Gornik and Bill Viola’s works were originally set to be shown in September as part of the exhibit titled “Atmospheric Conditions.” While the state of the museum’s collection has been dubious since January 2009 when the board of trustees announced its intentions to sell art as a means of offsetting the university’s budget crisis, Gornik said in an interview with The Hoot that the artists had been under the impression that the university had since “legally committed to keeping the collection intact.”

“It is a result of my own ignorance of the status of the museum that we agreed to the exhibit,” Gornik said, adding that she had stipulated from the beginning that she would not show her art unless the Rose collection was not for sale. “When it gradually came to light that this is not a resolved issue, pulling out was a no-brainer.”

Before canceling, Gornik, Fischl and Viola asked the university for a legally binding agreement not to sell the art, which the university would not provide.

Currently, the university is being sued by three donors to the museum seeking a court order that the university not sell art. While the university announced this May that it had tabled the idea of selling the art and was looking toward “no-sale” options such as renting, the suit is in the discovery stage, and the university has made no legal agreement to not sell the art, Brandeis Senior Vice President of Communications Andrew Gully wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot.

“At one point [the university] sent us a positive sounding quote about The Rose that was printed in The Boston Globe,” Gornik said, “but if the university is sincere, it shouldn’t mind signing a contract.”

Of the artists consequential decision, Gully wrote “we were disappointed that the artists changed their minds and declined to show at the Rose. We thought their works would add a lot to the museum, our students, the entire Brandeis community, and the wider art community.”

Following “Atmospheric Conditions’’ cancelation, a solo exhibit by James Rosenquist was scheduled to replace it. After a fire at Rosenquist’s studio, however, he was forced to cancel his exhibit as well.

“[The fire] completely destroyed his house, office and studio. This backlash includes tax consequences, rebuilding headaches and multiple issues he continues to endure, making it difficult to show anywhere at this time,” Rosenquist’s spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot. “It has nothing to do with the Rose Museum’s internal affairs.”

This fall, the Rose Art Museum will show yet another exhibit from its permanent collection entitled “Water Ways,” which will feature works that utilize water as form, muse, metaphor and inspiration. “Water Ways” has been planned since May, and was originally set to show in one of the side galleries while “Atmospheric Conditions” was the main exhibit. It is currently unclear whether “Water Ways” will be expanded into the main galleries due to the changes.

Gornik said she, Fischl and Viola would “love” to show their exhibit at the museum in the future, but only once the legal battle is resolved.

“When Rosenquist agreed to do that exhibit, he said it was important to show support for the museum,” she said, “but the university is making it hard to do so.”