Out in the cold: The Rose Art Museum, at Brandeis. (Photo by kenudigit.)
As you may have heard, Brandeis University wants to shut down the Rose Art Museum, with plans to liquidate it’s 6,000-piece collection to help the university stay afloat financially. And, as you may have heard, a whole lotta people are not very happy about it, including a number of the university’s alumnae — one of whom, Eric Gordon, is a graduate of the class of ’76, and currently serves as the head of paintings conservation at the The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. He has kindly agreed to let us publish a letter he sent to the university’s president this afternoon regarding the situation:
Dear President Reinharz,
I cannot begin to express my shock, disbelief and disappointment in your decision to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its collection in order to meet financial pressures brought on by the current state of the economy. Your decision is short-sighted, irreversible and one you will find hard to live with in the future. It will forever change the character of the university, diminishing its breadth and diversity of the student body, faculty and the potential for Brandeis to be a leader in the humanities.
As a fine arts graduate of Brandeis’s class of ’76, I spent hours at the Rose pouring over “real” art, studying the surfaces, examining frames, researching histories, and writing entries. This first-hand experience was vastly different from visiting a museum and looking at pictures on a wall. It was the real thing, 3-D, inspirational. I was saddened when the university decided to sell its collection before 1900 in order to specialize in modern art, but at least it was making an effort to keep a narrower mission alive for New England and for the students. My experiences at The Rose motivated me to pursue a career in painting conservation. Following Brandeis, I graduated from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts in 1980 with a Masters Degree in Art History and a certificate in conservation and am now head of painting conservation at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. I have published extensively, trained many conservators and received the Prix de Rome. I was proud of my Brandeis education and that the university did not serve just those interested in studying Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and pre-med. I sink inside at the thought that Brandeis will no longer serve the needs of students like me who discovered their calling at a university museum. Gary Tinterow, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was in my class and similarly found his footing at the Rose. At this point, if I were a prospective student, I would not apply to Brandeis knowing that the fine arts were considered irrelevant to my education.
As you must be aware, your actions are considered unethical by the American Association of Museum Directors as recently described in an article in last month’s New York Times, specifically in reference to the New York Academy of Design. Only in their case they sold two paintings, not an entire collection. I cannot begin to imagine what is going through the minds of those who contributed their artwork to the Rose Art Museum for the benefit of the students and the community and the greater ramifications for future benefactors to the university because of this brash action. Furthermore, with the economy and art market as they are, you also must be aware that only the very best artwork is finding a buyer and that the market is far from what it would be at a more solvent time.
I hope that this decision is not irreversible that it will be reconsidered. I am embarrassed by your decision and will no longer make an annual contribution, as I have for my entire working adult life, for Brandeis no longer lives up to my ideals of what a university should be.
I would very much like to send this letter to the chairman of the board of trustees at the university and would appreciate your sending me his/her email address. I look forward to hearing from you.
Head of Painting Conservation
The Walters Art Museum