The interior of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in January. Photograph: NYTimes.
The wait is over. Yesterday, the Rose Art Museum trustees filed a suit in Massachusetts State Court to halt closure of Brandeis University’s museum and the sale of masterpieces by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg. The move had been expected for some time. In January, the university announced it would shutter the museum, but after a deafening public outcry, the administration sent out an array of different messages, including most recently that the museum would not be closing, but rather transitioned into an education center. The museum’s Board of Overseers weren’t buying it, and said as much back in April. How can a museum function with no director, no curator, no education director, no administrator, no funding stream and no exhibition program, they asked? The university’s failure to sufficiently answer these and other questions prompted the suit.
The plantiffs’ list of demands doesn’t offer too many surprises, but are broken down below courtesy of Culturegrrl nonetheless.
—Issue a preliminary injunction preventing Brandeis University from closing the Rose, selling any artwork in its possession, or using any of the Rose’s endowment funds, without further order of the Court.
—Enter an order declaring that Brandeis may not close the Rose Art Museum.
—Enter an order declaring that Brandeis may not sell any artwork of the Rose Art Museum except…for the purpose of purchasing new artwork.
—Enter an order that the artwork, endowment and other funds donated for use…of the Rose Art Museum…may not be claimed, taken or used by Brandeis for any purpose other than the continued benefit of the Rose Art Museum.
—In the alternative…, order Brandeis to turn over the artwork and endowment funds to the Rose Preservation Fund, Inc. [a nonprofit corporation created by the plaintiffs], or another appropriate organization, in order to further, as nearly as possible, the intent of Edward and Bertha Rose and of those many donors who followed their lead.
Additionally, philanthropist Lois Foster seeks the return of funds with which she endowed the museum’s directorship, and to rescind her pledge of $1.8 million intended to further endow the position. The financially ailing university, on the other hand, is “seeking to enforce” the pledge, according to the plaintiffs.
Through all this, one sole voice in support of the university continues to write on the subject. The famously deaccession-friendly lawyer Donn Zaretsky over at the Art Law Blog predictably takes the position that since the university’s latest plan is not to “close” the museum, the suit has no merit problems.
It is worth mentioning that despite its threatened extinction, the Rose Museum’s latest exhibition, “Numbers, Color and Text,” opened last week on July 22, and will run through September 20. The show, which includes work by Josef Albers, Bridget Riley, and Robert Indiana, focuses on a series by Alfred Jensen. According to the museum website, the works on display explore the relationship between numbers, text, and color theory. Considering the fact that a Google search of the exhibition title and “Rose Art Museum” yields no more than five hits, many people following the story may not be aware the Rose is still mounting new shows.
Randy Kennedy for The NYTimes artsbeat blog.