Openings USA

The return of the Rose Art Museum

After nearly losing its collection to cover Brandeis’s failing finances, the university museum reopens this week and celebrates its 50th anniversary with a renewed commitment to its art

Bertha and Edward Rose break ground on the museum in 1960

WALTHAM. Like Lazarus rising from the dead, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University will reopen this week (26-27 October) after a four-month renovation with two celebrations that university president Frederick Lawrence says are heavy with significance for the museum’s future.

“The fact that we are having the reopenings during the fall board of trustees meeting is designed to raise the profile of the Rose in the university community,” he says. It was these same trustees, mostly, who in January 2009 voted to sell the Rose’s famed collection of modern and contemporary art to keep the university from shrinking drastically after the 2008 markets’ crash.

Since then, the Rose has been in limbo. Its supporters successfully sued to block the sale, reaching a settlement this June. But former director Michael Rush, who helped foment the opposition, left when his contract expired in the spring of 2009, and has never been replaced. Instead, Roy Dawes, an artist who joined the Rose staff in 2002 and was once a gallery manager at Boston’s Institute for Contemporary Art, has led it as “director of museum operations”. Some exhibitions had to be cancelled, including one for James Rosenquist, who blamed a fire in his studio for his withdrawal, but also said he didn’t want to have to deal with the controversy.

Rosenquist is now part of the 26 October re-opening, which kicks off a series of events to mark the Rose’s 50th anniversary. On 27 October, there is also a public reception and viewing.

More important, Lawrence says the search to replace Rush, which was announced in September 2010, will accelerate. Brandeis has hired an executive search firm and formed a committee that includes Lois Foster, a member of Rose’s Board of Overseers who was a plaintiff in the suit against Brandeis, and Jock Reynolds, the director of the Yale University Art Gallery. “Jock Reynolds is the dean of university art museum directors, and the fact that he stepped up to be part of the search committee speaks volumes,” Lawrence says.

The committee will also be advised by three Brandeis alumni who are art world heavyweights: Kim Rorschach, '78, director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University; Adam Weinberg, '77, director of the Whitney Museum of American Art; and Gary Tinterow '76, curator in charge of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Weinberg will also join Rosenquist in a conversation about art at the 26 October reception and dinner for university trustees, museum supporters, artists, and other prominent members of the local art world. “I reached out to Adam while he was on vacation in Maine this summer,” Lawrence explains. “I said, ‘You told me about the importance of the Rose, and now I need you,’ and he said yes.” Attendees will also get a look at three exhibitions: “Art at the Origin: The Early Sixties”, a selection of works created between 1961 and 1965 by Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Willem de Kooning, Andy Warhol and others; “Bruce Conner: EVE-RAY-FOREVER”, a display of the 2006 stroboscopic film triptych that recreates his 1965 exhibition at the Rose; and “Collecting Stories”, a selection of gifts made to the Rose, including paintings by Juan Gris, Marsden Hartley, Jasper Johns and Louise Nevelson.

Among those attending on 26 October is Meryl Rose, another plaintiff in the suit against Brandeis. Referring to Lawrence, she says, “He is on the right path, but I have mixed feelings about the settlement.” In it, the university says it has no intentions to put any of its art up for sale, but it does not say outright that it will never sell art. “They are talking the talk, but I want to see them walking the walk,” Rose says.

For his part, Lawrence says that he’s heard criticism by both sides, and adds: “Where we are is in the same situation as we were before and where most museums are. We will live by what I said.”

Lawrence declined to discuss the Rose’s financial situation, but says, “the Rose will need help from the university and we are providing that help. We are putting substantial resources into it.” Before the controversy, the Rose’s annual budget was reported to be about $1.5m, plus nearly $500,000 provided by the university for heat, electricity and maintenance.

Lawrence also says he has done some repair work with donors during his short tenure, but has not had much time to focus on that. Now, however, “our goal is to reenergize the Rose with fundraising and membership. The goal is not to return it to pre-2009, but to take it to higher levels.”

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