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Bravo to Roberta Smith, the New York Times art critic who journeyed to Boston this weekend to see firsthand just what was at stake with Brandeis’ decision to close the Rose Art Museum. Her report is a devastating one, revealing a process that is more egregious than I had previously realized. (You can read her article on Slow Painting as well as the Times site.)

Here are a few of her well placed barbs:

The Brandeis vote was an act of breathtaking stealth and presumption: a raid on a museum that supports itself, raises its own funds and has consistently planned wisely for its own future without leaning on the university. The trustees treated it nonetheless as a disposable asset.

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It is hard to know how anyone could destroy this museum, but that’s what Brandeis announced it would do last Monday. It’s hard to think of a comparably destructive — and self-destructive — move in the art world today.

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The outcry in the art world was also fast and furious, with more than a few people noting that the rapidly sinking art market made this an idiotic time to sell art. By week’s end Mr. Reinharz was backpedaling on the sale, saying it was not clear what would be sold or when. He was nonetheless adamant that the museum would be closed.

Of course he was. What better way to avoid the messy legalities of deaccessioning artworks, with the attendant denunciations from Association of Art Museum Directors and other professional organizations that monitor and weigh in on sales of individual works of art? (The association’s guidelines say that art works can be sold only to finance acquisitions.) If there is no museum, there are no guidelines to violate.

It’s a cynical view but I think Smith is fair in pointing out the game plan here. It was poignantly contrasted to her reminder of the larger issues at stake here:

On Friday the only signs of any disturbance were on the exterior of the Rose’s dainty, cast-concrete building, which opened in 1961, just 13 years after the university itself was founded. The museum’s glass front was festooned with posters that exclaimed, “Don’t Close the Rose” and “Fire Sale,” the remnants of a student sit-in the day before.

But inside, the art was, as usual, doing what art is always trying to do, speak to people directly about pleasure and beauty, about personal capacity and freedom, about how individuals acting on their own can find themselves, express those findings and make a difference.

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The greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.

The message out of Brandeis University last week — to its own students and to the world — was that when the going gets tough, none of this matters. Art is dispensable.

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