Last night the previously disenfranchised and much beleaguered Rose Art Museum on the Brandeis campus reopened with much fanfare, a celebration being called The Rose Art Museum at fifty. In spite of a torrential rainstorm, the museum was chockablock with donors, students, artists, patrons and, specially introduced to the crowd, art luminary James Rosenquist. A DJ played music from the 50s while crowds milled through the newly renovated space, eating and drinking in a party tent assembled at the front of the museum.
That temporary facade at the face of the museum is not without significance. Clearly there are lots of reasons to want to start fresh after an extremely unbecoming chapter in the university’s history. Roy Dawes, the new director of museum operations, gave a short speech as did new Brandeis president Frederick Lawrence (who recently navigated closure for the lawsuits resulting from his predecessor Jehuda Reinharz‘ harebrained scheme to sell off the Rose art stash to cover the university’s operating shortfall.)
OK. I get the need to start new and unencumbered. And certainly I am grateful, as is the whole art loving Boston community, that this amazing, AMAZING collection of art is once again available to the public. But in the opening ceremony, no one spoke about or owned up to the crisis the museum has luckily survived. I have to ask: Is the best path to act as if nothing happened? For those of us who have followed this story closely, it doesn’t bring a sense of closure. A fancy brochure reprinting highlights from the Rose’s first director Sam Hunter‘s 2001 memoir is not adequate cover for the fact that it was the strong arm of lawsuits brought by museum patrons Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee, Lois Foster and Gerald Fineberg that saved the day for all of us 99%ers.
There is however one spot in the current exhibit that owns up the true account, and hats off to the individual(s) who fought for this to be included in the (re)inaugural show. That spot is downstairs, in the last gallery. Steve Miller‘s piece, seen below, was accompanied by this commentary on the wall:
Following a January 2009 announcement that the Rose Art Museum was to be closed and the art sold to provide funds for Brandeis University’s operating costs during a budget crisis, Miller returned to campus to work with students protesting the decision. Together they created a large canvas ATM sign, which was installed above the museum’s main entrance, as well as a slew of signs…which students planted across campus. The entire project amounted to a mock advertisement, proclaiming the Rose a place to get quick cash. It also declared that Art Trumps Money (ATM). The highly engaged reaction of students expressed the extent to which the museum’s original mission—to communicate, to forge links, to give students direct access to the work of living artists—made an impact.
In the wake of the announcement, museum supporters brought a lawsuit against Brandeis University to prevent the closure of the museum and the sale of art. The suit was resolved during the summer 2011 with a renewed commitment between the universithy and its museum. The Rose is collecting art and planning new exhibitions. No works of art were sold during the crisis.
So back to what really matters: The collection. It’s a feast. I know I will never take the Rose for granted again even though its caretakers often fall short.