Art law Controversies USA

Rose Art Museum lawsuit settled

The university museum will remain open and will not have to sell part of its collection

Saved: the Rose Art Museum will keep its art

WALTHAM. The sad saga of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum, whose collection university trustees had voted to sell in 2009, ended today when the university announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by museum supporters and the promise to keep the museum open without putting any of its art up for sale.

“The Rose remains open, and it has an important role to play in the life of Brandeis,” Fred Lawrence, the university’s president, told The Art Newspaper. “There are no plans to sell art.” Further, he added, the lawsuit, brought by four Rose board members and donors to prohibit any sales in Suffolk Probate and Family Court in Boston, was terminated, and the Massachusetts Attorney General has closed the case.

Lawrence declined to rule out another option that has been considered, however, that the Rose might raise money by “renting out” part of its collection. “We’re exploring options, but I’m focused on the 50th anniversary of the Rose this year, with planning traveling exhibitions, and with bringing supporters back to the museum,” he said.

The Rose was threatened with closure in January 2009, when Brandeis’s board of trustees voted to help alleviate the university’s deep financial troubles by selling art from the Rose’s collection, whose 7,000-plus works include seminal pieces by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Morris Louis, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, and Richard Serra, among others. It has been valued at more than $350 million. Making matters worse, the board’s decision was sprung without warning on Michael Rush, then the Rose's director, and the museum’s board — who fought the move publicly and vociferously. Within months, Rush’s contract was not renewed and he has not been replaced.

Besieged by criticism, Brandeis began to backtrack last year, a move that accelerated when former president Jehuda Reinharz, who backed the sale, was replaced by Lawrence. Last September, the university formed a search committee to hire a new director and earlier this year, it announced plans to renovate the museum this summer, and reopen for the golden anniversary in the fall.

Without a definitive statement about the Rose’s future from Brandeis, however, recruiting hasn’t been easy. “Having the lawsuit settled will enhance the search,” Lawrence added.

Lawrence, a lawyer by training, noted that he was a graduate of Williams College, long a prominent educator of museum directors and curators, including Glenn Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art, and Thomas Krens, former director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Though not an art major, Lawrence took two art history courses there, and said, “I saw how a museum can play a role in the life of a university there, not just for fine arts majors. I am excited about the role the Rose has played and can play in the life of Brandeis.”

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