Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brandeis and critics agree that sales of donated art are repugnant

After a change in presidents, the controversy about whether Brandeis University could sell its art has ended, Inside Higher Ed reports: Brandeis Will Keep Its Art

"One of the flashpoints in the debate over whether colleges and universities should ever sell significant works of art was resolved Thursday -- with Brandeis University pledging to strengthen the Rose Art Museum rather than sell its masterpieces.

"Based on the promise, four supporters of the museum who sued the university two years ago agreed to end the litigation. Further, the Massachusetts attorney general's office has agreed to end its inquiry into the university's handling of the art collection.
"There have been several cases in recent years of colleges trying to sell or being pressured to sell parts of valuable collections. Fisk University remains in a legal battle over its desire to sell (or to partly sell) a $30 million collection of modern paintings by Georgia O'Keeffe and others. The University of Iowa this year fended off calls for it to sell Jackson Pollock's "Mural," an 8-by-20 foot painting that is considered one of the masterpieces of abstract art and of modern American art. Some estimated that the painting could have brought in as much as $140 million.

"Longstanding policy in the art world is that donated works of art be sold only to finance the purchase of more art, not to have the funds shifted to other purposes. So art supporters at Brandeis and elsewhere were stunned when the university in 2009 announced plans to shut the Rose Art Museum and sell off its works.
"The university made the announcement in January 2009, with officials citing a major hit taken by the endowment and severe budget problems facing Brandeis. “These are extraordinary times,” said a statement from Jehuda Reinharz, then the university's president, as the decision was announced. “We cannot control or fix the nation’s economic problems. We can only do what we have been entrusted to do -- act responsibly with the best interests of our students and their futures foremost in mind.”

The decision immediately prompted an outpouring of anger at the university from supporters of the arts, and donors to the Rose. Eventually, the university faced the lawsuit, an inquiry from the state, and widespread condemnation -- even as Brandeis put the plans to sell the art on hold.

"David A. Robertson, director of the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, was president of the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries when the initial Brandeis plans were announced. He said Thursday that he was thrilled with the news that the university was committing itself to strengthening the collection.
"The Brandeis controversy was "the flagship problem" for those worried about the sale of art, because of both the caliber of the university and the stature of the collection, he said. "It was very detrimental to art that Brandeis would have considered that move," he said.
"The debate over art at Brandeis has been valuable, Robertson said, in that it has "made other institutions aware of the issues that revolve around their collections." He said he hoped the uproar Brandeis has faced would discourage similar proposals."


Here's the museum website: The Rose Art Museum

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