Muddy Waters at Brandeis University

by Art Fag City on February 2, 2009 · 19 comments Newswire

Matthew Barney, Art Fag City, Cremaster 3
Matthew Barney, Cremaster 3, production still

I don’t want to harp on the Brandeis shuttering of the Rose Art Museum and the PR statements university has been releasing, but I will. From an email I referenced last week sent by the office of Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz:

I would like to reiterate the point that has been made in public releases from the University, specifically that Brandeis is not lessening its commitment to the creative and visual arts. The Rose will be transitioned into a fine arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery, expanded facilities of which the University has had a long-term need and which directly benefit our students.

If the office had said something to the effect of, “Look, we know this is going to be a blow to the University and the arts program, so it’s really awful that we have to do this”, I would be more sympathetic to Brandeis’ financial woes. Instead, we’re being asked to swallow a deliberately misleading statement describing an arts teaching center as greater in value than a world renowned art collection. These are precisely the kinds of falsities that make people question the necessity of the deaccession in the first place.  Muddy water tends not to be localized.

Meanwhile, Brandeis students certainly understand the lemon they’ve been served. From Roberta Smith’s great write up on the Rose yesterday in the Times:

At the museum on Friday, Aliza Sena, a 19-year-old sophomore, said that graduating seniors in art and art history were especially traumatized. “It's like the school telling them that their degree is fluff,” Ms. Sena said. She transferred this year from Tulane University after deciding that she wanted to major in art rather than business, and the Rose was a major factor in her choice.

“I'm devastated,” she said. “It's crushing to figure out this school's priorities, and sad that they can make a decision without consulting anyone knowledgeable. It really makes me reconsider being here.”

And well it should.

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  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    In a comment last week, someone evoked the Greek chorus, in reference to the art blogs’ coverage of the Rose. That seems fitting as a commentary. The thing that gets me is the almost activist, partisan response that seems to greet news of perceived blows to the art world with predictable umbrage (see: Petition in Opposition to the Closing of the Rose). There are certain quarters from which I would expect and with which I would sympathize protests in response to these kinds of events. But the idea that it is incumbent on some demographic that fancies itself in the most general terms as arts-supporting to mark out territory to defend is disheartening to me. Greek chorus as reactionaries.

    If we have come to accept institutions as arbiters of culture after all, and not as vehicles for the accumulation of captital, then I guess feelings of loss and outrage are appropriate. But I don’t like planting flags.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    In a comment last week, someone evoked the Greek chorus, in reference to the art blogs’ coverage of the Rose. That seems fitting as a commentary. The thing that gets me is the almost activist, partisan response that seems to greet news of perceived blows to the art world with predictable umbrage (see: Petition in Opposition to the Closing of the Rose). There are certain quarters from which I would expect and with which I would sympathize protests in response to these kinds of events. But the idea that it is incumbent on some demographic that fancies itself in the most general terms as arts-supporting to mark out territory to defend is disheartening to me. Greek chorus as reactionaries.

    If we have come to accept institutions as arbiters of culture after all, and not as vehicles for the accumulation of captital, then I guess feelings of loss and outrage are appropriate. But I don’t like planting flags.

  • http://wwiiggss.blogspot.com wigs

    Word up, David…

    So what then should our collective reaction be? Perhaps we should all keep our distances and remain in the wings, rather than join the ‘chorus’ to sustain that weak analogy. Or sit in the audience and judge the players on their performances as you deem yourself worthy to do.

    Institutions are not sole arbiters of culture and no one is claiming that. Universities above all are businesses and this had all the transparency of a closed-door business transaction. People are outraged at the loss of a museum: a gathering place, a place to celebrate objects of praxis, a place for discussion, however romantic or foolish the idea. If the ‘defensiveness’ of these actions offends you, it is probably with valid reason. Personally, I think it speaks more to your superiority complex; a secret love for the status quo; smarminess disguised as trendy nihilism; trolling disguised as commentary.

    Planting flags indeed.

  • http://wwiiggss.blogspot.com wigs

    Word up, David…

    So what then should our collective reaction be? Perhaps we should all keep our distances and remain in the wings, rather than join the ‘chorus’ to sustain that weak analogy. Or sit in the audience and judge the players on their performances as you deem yourself worthy to do.

    Institutions are not sole arbiters of culture and no one is claiming that. Universities above all are businesses and this had all the transparency of a closed-door business transaction. People are outraged at the loss of a museum: a gathering place, a place to celebrate objects of praxis, a place for discussion, however romantic or foolish the idea. If the ‘defensiveness’ of these actions offends you, it is probably with valid reason. Personally, I think it speaks more to your superiority complex; a secret love for the status quo; smarminess disguised as trendy nihilism; trolling disguised as commentary.

    Planting flags indeed.

  • Art Fag City

    wigs: It’s fine to disagree, but personal attacks are not permitted on this blog, particularly when doing so anonymously. The superiority complex stuff is inappropriate and further comments in this vein will not be approved.

  • Art Fag City

    wigs: It’s fine to disagree, but personal attacks are not permitted on this blog, particularly when doing so anonymously. The superiority complex stuff is inappropriate and further comments in this vein will not be approved.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    Wigs, my problem is with the “our” and “collective”, and the tacit assumption that everyone who is interested in art forms a unified community deserving of a programmed voice. “Museum standards” that consider the sale of museum holdings unethical don’t represent art, but are rather standards held to ensure the authority of museums. The idea that everyone everywhere should automatically be up in arms is troublesome. It obligates one to a certain partisanship, and that’s a compromising bargain. Call me a romantic.

    Culture pundits who acquire authority by covering their subjects will be predictably upset (and the smarmy in me would attribute that to the need to maintain their constituencies.) Art historians, whose livings are often made in institutions, will lament the loss a material necessity. But these figures form a good part of the ‘culture industry’, and the sooner culture becomes disassociated with industry, the better. (I mean, to invoke a collective we, can’t we agree that the art world has been out of control for the last several years? The art market has its own toxic assets whose value no one knows. The best thing that can happen to American culture is for the industry to dry up and for people to stop making so much damn money from it!)

    I just think this is not a fight for artists. I think that if artists band together and demand representation, they will find themselves in a ghetto with circumscribed effectiveness. The Rose isn’t destroying its holdings, it’s selling them; and I don’t know why the proposed art center with studios, education facilities, and one would assume many opportunities to form a community is believed to be so inadequate a replacement.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    Wigs, my problem is with the “our” and “collective”, and the tacit assumption that everyone who is interested in art forms a unified community deserving of a programmed voice. “Museum standards” that consider the sale of museum holdings unethical don’t represent art, but are rather standards held to ensure the authority of museums. The idea that everyone everywhere should automatically be up in arms is troublesome. It obligates one to a certain partisanship, and that’s a compromising bargain. Call me a romantic.

    Culture pundits who acquire authority by covering their subjects will be predictably upset (and the smarmy in me would attribute that to the need to maintain their constituencies.) Art historians, whose livings are often made in institutions, will lament the loss a material necessity. But these figures form a good part of the ‘culture industry’, and the sooner culture becomes disassociated with industry, the better. (I mean, to invoke a collective we, can’t we agree that the art world has been out of control for the last several years? The art market has its own toxic assets whose value no one knows. The best thing that can happen to American culture is for the industry to dry up and for people to stop making so much damn money from it!)

    I just think this is not a fight for artists. I think that if artists band together and demand representation, they will find themselves in a ghetto with circumscribed effectiveness. The Rose isn’t destroying its holdings, it’s selling them; and I don’t know why the proposed art center with studios, education facilities, and one would assume many opportunities to form a community is believed to be so inadequate a replacement.

  • Art Fag City

    @David I think of it like this: I live in New York because I don’t think there is a replacement for seeing contemporary art in person in Chelsea and in the Lower East Side nor the community formed around it. Communities grow in locations where great art is accessible. So you can replace the museum with an education center, but the community won’t stay. Art is what binds people. If you buy into the idea that there is no replacement for seeing great art in person, I don’t see how you can say that the community will remain the same without it.

  • Art Fag City

    @David I think of it like this: I live in New York because I don’t think there is a replacement for seeing contemporary art in person in Chelsea and in the Lower East Side nor the community formed around it. Communities grow in locations where great art is accessible. So you can replace the museum with an education center, but the community won’t stay. Art is what binds people. If you buy into the idea that there is no replacement for seeing great art in person, I don’t see how you can say that the community will remain the same without it.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    I don’t really agree with your premise, Art Fag City, not all that much. I mean, I live in New York for similar reasons, but I have difficulty with the ideas in your statement that communities grow where great art is accessible. For one thing, what’s great art- if it’s art that a lot of people like then there is a lot of it in Chelsea, but I tend not to think of it in that way.

    If art binds people, I think it does so in all kinds of ways, not necessarily through museum collections. Rose is a part of Brandeis University, and there are models for a university-based art center with exhibition spaces and studios, and programming, but without a permanent collection, that go far in advancing a community. I’m thinking of a Wexner Center-type of place. Also, unless they changed policy with their new digs, the New Museum has no permanent collection to speak of; does the Walker?

    Anyway, my point isn’t to come out as an advocate for this type of thing. But I can see how, if Brandeis truly remains committed to art, a first-rate art center can be had that doesn’t include a permanent collection in its mission, and I don’t think that’s offensive.

    I think it would be better, though, if some facet of the art community (and I think of artists themselves, here) were less like advocates or lobbyists and more like journalists or something, more philosophical (wigs can call out my superiority complex at that point, I guess). That’s what I was originally getting at. I don’t like the idea that as an artist I’m duty-bound to support manifestations of the culture industry. Really, there are plenty of galleries I’d be glad to see close, and somehow I think “we” should all feel that way.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    I don’t really agree with your premise, Art Fag City, not all that much. I mean, I live in New York for similar reasons, but I have difficulty with the ideas in your statement that communities grow where great art is accessible. For one thing, what’s great art- if it’s art that a lot of people like then there is a lot of it in Chelsea, but I tend not to think of it in that way.

    If art binds people, I think it does so in all kinds of ways, not necessarily through museum collections. Rose is a part of Brandeis University, and there are models for a university-based art center with exhibition spaces and studios, and programming, but without a permanent collection, that go far in advancing a community. I’m thinking of a Wexner Center-type of place. Also, unless they changed policy with their new digs, the New Museum has no permanent collection to speak of; does the Walker?

    Anyway, my point isn’t to come out as an advocate for this type of thing. But I can see how, if Brandeis truly remains committed to art, a first-rate art center can be had that doesn’t include a permanent collection in its mission, and I don’t think that’s offensive.

    I think it would be better, though, if some facet of the art community (and I think of artists themselves, here) were less like advocates or lobbyists and more like journalists or something, more philosophical (wigs can call out my superiority complex at that point, I guess). That’s what I was originally getting at. I don’t like the idea that as an artist I’m duty-bound to support manifestations of the culture industry. Really, there are plenty of galleries I’d be glad to see close, and somehow I think “we” should all feel that way.

  • Art Fag City

    @David. I don’t have time to respond to this in depth, but put simply I don’t agree. The Brandeis is not the New Museum. The Rose Art Museum will be closed. The New Museum is open to the public. I don’t see how you can possibly say there’s no loss when one won’t be open to the public anymore.

    Personally, I think this idea of not wanting to support manifestations of the culture industry is a little idealistic. It’s like saying you don’t want to support capitalism. You might not like it, but you’re part of the system. I’d much rather take a position on the way that system is run than let detached cynicism run it.

  • Art Fag City

    @David. I don’t have time to respond to this in depth, but put simply I don’t agree. The Brandeis is not the New Museum. The Rose Art Museum will be closed. The New Museum is open to the public. I don’t see how you can possibly say there’s no loss when one won’t be open to the public anymore.

    Personally, I think this idea of not wanting to support manifestations of the culture industry is a little idealistic. It’s like saying you don’t want to support capitalism. You might not like it, but you’re part of the system. I’d much rather take a position on the way that system is run than let detached cynicism run it.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    Hey, I appreciate the exchange, and I’ll keep it short. Fundamentally comparing an open New Museum to a closed Rose neglects my whole argument that something like an open Brandeis U. art center can be as much a boon to a community, depending on its final form. Come on.

    Finally, since when is being idealistic an epithet? The examples that have been set for at least resisting the culture industry/capitalism are numerous, and constitute a front of ‘advanced’ cultural thinking that is taken as a given. The tragedy is that the mindset of the industry is so ubiquitous now that it’s upheld by so many people; this must account for the (admittedly) meandering thoughts of an engaged artist to be determined to support detached cynicism. I don’t think where I’m coming from is either detached or cynical, quite the contrary, where it comes to art.

    But anyway, longer than I meant it to be, and thanks again for the exchange!

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    Hey, I appreciate the exchange, and I’ll keep it short. Fundamentally comparing an open New Museum to a closed Rose neglects my whole argument that something like an open Brandeis U. art center can be as much a boon to a community, depending on its final form. Come on.

    Finally, since when is being idealistic an epithet? The examples that have been set for at least resisting the culture industry/capitalism are numerous, and constitute a front of ‘advanced’ cultural thinking that is taken as a given. The tragedy is that the mindset of the industry is so ubiquitous now that it’s upheld by so many people; this must account for the (admittedly) meandering thoughts of an engaged artist to be determined to support detached cynicism. I don’t think where I’m coming from is either detached or cynical, quite the contrary, where it comes to art.

    But anyway, longer than I meant it to be, and thanks again for the exchange!

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    (okay, real fast: there are people in America who try very hard not to be implicated in capitalism, who would at the very least dare to say they don’t support capitalism (and there’s a great article in the Jan 26 issue of the New Yorker called the Dystopians (Ben McGrath) that deals with some iterations of this impulse). For sure such a position places one in the margins, and perhaps appears detached- but I think these places are where the more interesting phenomena originate)

    thanks again, P.

  • http://davidmcbride.net David

    (okay, real fast: there are people in America who try very hard not to be implicated in capitalism, who would at the very least dare to say they don’t support capitalism (and there’s a great article in the Jan 26 issue of the New Yorker called the Dystopians (Ben McGrath) that deals with some iterations of this impulse). For sure such a position places one in the margins, and perhaps appears detached- but I think these places are where the more interesting phenomena originate)

    thanks again, P.

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