Thursday, January 29, 2009

Brandeis: Art = Cash

When you add it up it's clear that the board of trustees at Brandeis University equate the highly esteemed collection of art at the Rose Art Museum with cash and nothing more. They've said so in just those terms. Geoff Edgers' article today provides the quotes that total this shockingly philistine view for a body responsible for educating future generations and that ironically prides itself on promoting the arts:
Jehuda Reinharz, Brandeis University president, yesterday opened the possibility that the university would not sell its $350 million art collection but said he would not change his mind about closing Rose Art Museum and turning it into a study and research center. [...] "We have no particular mandate from the board of trustees as to when to sell, how to sell," Reinharz said in an interview.
Marty Krauss, Brandeis provost, also shed light on the reasoning behind the closure, which is scheduled for late summer. In an interview, she said university officials believed they could not operate a museum, which is expected to abide by a code of ethics limiting the reasons it can sell off art, and then sell art to pay for needs other than the museum. Closing the 48-year-old museum entirely would provide the university more freedom, Krauss said.
Should Brandeis hold onto some or all of its art, "we will do what other universities do," [Reinharz] said. "Lots of universities have collections of art, which they display or don't display."
= A decision designed to turn what had been a gem of a museum into an ATM machine.

Even more incredible about all this is the farce it makes of Brandeis' stated support of the arts:
The arts at Brandeis unite the imagination and the intellect in the pursuit of personal truth, social justice and artistic freedom. We believe that creativity, community and arts participation are essential to global citizenship and a new vision for this century.
I mean, if you're that ambivalent about displaying any of the work you own and your stated goal is to have the freedom to sell whatever piece you like whenever you feel like it, what message is that sending to your students and community about the importance of art in our culture?

Indeed, what I find particularly hard to stomach about their defense of this decision is the message they're sending their art students. As if the students can't connect the dots from this bone they're being thrown:
[Reinharz] said the study and research center would have a gallery space, which will be of "great importance" to the university's fine arts students and to its core educational mission.
to this:
"Lots of universities have collections of art, which they display or don't display."
...and feel that the ultimate destination of their own art (should they work really hard and get acquired by some collector who one day donates it to a gem of a museum at a university that will, as all universities do, struggle from time to time financially) isn't the occasional appropriate exhibition but rather some crate in storage waiting for the day the trustees decide its easier to cash it in than find some other means to survive the next recession. Add to this that many of the donations the trustees see as cash at their disposal were reportedly only given with the stipulation that they be on display and that the museum itself is financially sound, it's clear to my mind that there has been some extreme shift in what art means at that school.

To be perfectly honest, I could not in good conscience now advise an art student to consider this university. No offense to the arts department or professors there, but there are some messages and some actions that undercut any trustee lip service to understanding the importance of art in our culture. When a museum pulls its own weight and acquires the world-class artwork in the Rose's collection, it's simply shameful to say in essence, "Screw all that, we want the cash."

Labels: art museums, Brandeis


Blogger Aaron Wexler said...

Academia is certainly no safe house from greed and immorality. I think art universities and educational institutions are going to pay a serious and crippling price in this economy... maybe not the design departments in specific though. However, those shiny new buildings and massive real estate do look attractive to the kids and parents on the campus tours!

This particular collection is now just seen as an asset (or playing chips to cash in) to pay off stupid debt. I wonder if anyone there is seriously asking why they're in this mess at that moment? Is selling off art really going to fix the problems? We all know it won't.

But it still makes me wonder, if the value of acclaimed art is mostly seen in terms of future re-sale (when the timing is right)... Does anyone really own art?

1/29/2009 09:32:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

Part of me is not offended that art=money because, well, I make art and I sell it, so in my mind that is a good thing since I need to earn a living and de-accessioning is all the rage now at many, many institutions across the USA and forever means until further notice (apparently) but I would be very angry if I were the Fosters who just donated millions to the recent renovation at the Rose Art Museum- although I guess it will still be an architectural asset to Brandeis. The thing that irks me and should be a call to action for artists is to get a piece of the pie- we need that little piece of legislation that gives artists a percentage of all future sales on their work.

On another note, I would miss the Rose very much- I saw Judy Chicago's the Holocaust Project there and it was my introduction via their permanent collection to many artists. I reacted to Michael Rush's comments about all the recent focus and programming on exhibiting the permanent collection b/c it was like the writing on the wall, getting it out and inventoried and probably appraised usually signals the institutions option to sell it and cash in. There are also several smaller art galleries on campus- one is in the Women's studies research center and one houses a collection of Andy Warhol portraits in the president's office, I think. With Bill Arning leaving the List and LEF funding changes and many commercial galleries and non profit spaces already closed or in the process of closing - if the Rose Art Museum Closes, Boston faces some radical changes in the local arts culture- and for Boston, it feels much more devastating to the quality of the whole art scene i.e. the art market is not that strong in Boston and it never has been, so the really good stuff is usually what you see in the museums and non profit alternative spaces- like the university art museums i.e. the rose.

1/29/2009 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I would be pissed off, too if I had given art to the museum for free, well I guess it is always a tax write off or of some benefit to the donor, and if they turned it into cash to cover operating expenses or something- it just seems a little greedy to me- although operating expenses are always the most difficult line item in the budget to raise funds for, right? If they need a new building for their art program, why not build another one on campus for that purpose or renovate the Foster wing into 2 stories so it has more floor space for classrooms and studios as well as gallery space- it's what the Provincetown Art Museum did. And does it make sense to close an art museum in the middle of expanding the visual art program? At my alma mater, they did the opposite. They built an art museum to strengthen their commitment to the arts and the students experience on campus. You could also argue that the Rose is 'close' to Boston and there fore close to many other art museums so the Rose is not the only opportunity to get out and see art however, the Brandeis is not located on the subway, it's on the commuter rail and so the primary audience is the students, staff, faculty and their families. They mention 13,000 visitors, but how many students, staff, faculty, etc... live on campus and visit the museum each year? You think there would be an outcry from them?

1/29/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

Further example of education's decent into corporate mania. Why sell now when the market is falling?

1/29/2009 10:34:00 AM  
Blogger Donna Dodson said...

I think it's also problematic to solve a long term solution with a short term plan, i.e. de-accessionsing could make sense if the money went back into funds to buy more art, endowment funds, or even capital improvement funds but not operating expenses and if you took that line of reasoning, you'd be saying art holds its value, well most does, I suppose, and most goes up in value, but with contemporary art, does it?

1/29/2009 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger kalm james said...

I’d have to disagree slightly with your not recommending Brandeis to future students. There are a couple of very valuable lessons here for any artist. First; institutions exist for one purpose, to perpetuate themselves. All the social justice or educational values they may espouse are secondary to that end.

Second; the only people who truly care about art (beyond its monetary or social status value) are artists, members of the tribe. Welcome to “Being an artist 101”.

1/29/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Aaron Wexler said above: "But it still makes me wonder, if the value of acclaimed art is mostly seen in terms of future re-sale"
I have always found it strange that art is referred to primarily by its "value". "Brandeis' $350 million art collection", the "$X million Warhol", etc. I realize that it's a convenient way to quantify or describe a collection or an artwork because otherwise, what would you call it, the really fabulous collection? The world-class collection? The collection that the museum (or collector) spent years building and that is now top-notch?
It's indicative of our value system, as a culture, that we reduce everything to its monetary value. I may be wrong, but I don't think in France they refer to Versailles as "the XX million franc palace of Versailles". It's enough to say Versailles because the name itself reflects the "worth", the value, the history of the place in the culture.

1/29/2009 11:08:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian Aleksander Adams said...

This whole thing really pisses me off, but I can't say I'm surprised either.

1/29/2009 11:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The issue isn't just selling the artwork for a quick fix. By closing the museum the university gets the museum's endowment.

1/29/2009 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I read the news articles, but why do I still get the feeling that something is being held back by the Brandeis University trustees?

I think this is a land grab facilitated by a perfect storm in the economy and in business (non)ethics. The Brandeis University trustees want to loot the Rose Art Museum's collection in order to re-fund their endowment.

I view this as a short sighted decision which reflects poorly on the business judgment Brandeis University trustees.

1. Whatever they think the Rose Museums art collection is worth, mark it down by 50%. The art market will remain soft for the next few years. Moreover, the energy and efforts required to prepare for and negotiate the disposition of the artworks might achieve similar returns if directed towards general fund raising.

2. The trustees fail to appreciate the intangible values in having a great art museum on campus. Look at any PR releases for cities with major museums, look at what major corporations list as 'attractions', all of them list their local museums as perks. This is also the case for the professors and students of Brandeis. I believe that those who suggest that 'artists' are the only ones interested in art are sorely mistaken, that the evidence points otherwise.

3. The Rose Art Collection is irreplaceable, Brandeis University will never be able to accumulate a collection of its stature in the future. The very fact that a small university has such a great art collection reflects positively on their vision in the past.

4. Without the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University will be just another Liberal Arts college and sink into obscurity.

So, I want to know what is really going on here? According to the press release, the faculty voted to go along with the decision, why? Someone should audit the books. This is now a national news item, I want to know what's happening.

Follow the money.

1/29/2009 11:49:00 AM  
Blogger joy said...

George said:
I think this is a land grab facilitated by a perfect storm in the economy and in business (non)ethics. The Brandeis University trustees want to loot the Rose Art Museum's collection in order to re-fund their endowment.

This is chilling. And plausible/probable. I agree: follow the money. Here's to hoping the Attorney General does.

1/29/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger lookinaroundbob said...

"Would you like us to leave you our Warhol, a silk screen of some dead people in a car accident, when we pass, or would like the 20 mil we can get for it at the next big auction?"
A university that needs money (most endowments invested in the stock market) should not be expected to view the insane "values" of todays art markets the same way that hedge fund managers do and art dealers do.
Some would say that prices may never again be where they were in the last few years. Perhaps getting out now is the most sane thing to do.

1/29/2009 01:38:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

There's is a lot to this story that I don't know but I can speculate on auction prices a bit.

Over time, auction prices will recover along with the general economy. Over the shorter term, I think the estimates on what the Rose Museum collection would sell for are way too high.

The suggestion that auction prices reached "insane values" should be taken with a grain of salt. Certainly recent prices reached levels of overvaluation in absolute terms. However when making comparisons with past prices one must remember to take into account the effects of inflation which are significant. Over the last 20 years, inflation will have doubled the value of a painting, a $50 million painting should now be valued at $100 million. There is reason to believe that the inflation rate will continue to rise in the future.

Finally "Would you like us to leave you our Warhol, a silk screen of some dead people in a car accident, when we pass, or would like the 20 mil we can get for it at the next big auction?"

Unfortunately this is probably what they want the public to think. Isolate one painting as the poster child for decadent art they want to sell off so they can invest the money in the stock market. Guess what, the lawyers, brokers and art dealers are already counting up their commissions.

It's so shortsighted.

1/29/2009 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger lookinaroundbob said...

" they can invest the money in the stock market...."
or they could invest in $20,000,000 in scholarships.... Maybe Art Museum people should make art museum decisions and Education People should make... And maybe having to choose gets too difficult when the numbers get too high.

1/29/2009 03:33:00 PM  
Blogger timquinn said...

So,it's like this;

If the Constitution wont allow some action, abolish the Constitution. No more conflict!

Whoopee . . .

1/29/2009 04:48:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

That would indeed seem to be gist of it Tim...and again, one hell of a lesson for a university to be teaching their students.

1/29/2009 04:50:00 PM  
Blogger highlowbetween said...

I think George is right on target. Yes, Ed a wonderful lesson for students of an already highly endowed school.

1/29/2009 06:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

I think we are a bit severe. I didn't know they intend to keep a gallery. Rose could present many exhibits in a same schedule. If they want to reduce that to 1 exhibit, and take off the Museum tag, that's fine. University contexts are annoying for a museum. If Waltham wants a museum, they can build their own.

Maybe the collection should go to places more specifically dedicated to art. Or, the Rose Museum should move independantly in a setting not so entangled with people who don't care about art, and frankly probably don't have much reasons to.

Yes, they have very poor egos to
destroy this legacy, but maybe they didn't deserve it.

Cedric Casp

(I love the verification words, these days... yesterday was "mencult"... now it's "upple")

1/29/2009 06:45:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

The problem is, museum association rules are iron clad about deaccessioning a couple of pieces to raise money. It's not allowed, unless you're buying art to replace what you just sold. That's why they're closing the entire museum. To get around the rule.

Personally, I think the museum association should make a one-time allowance for a certain amount of deaccessions in this economy. Otherwise, I think we'll see a lot of museums giving up. But this opinion is VERY unpopular in the museum world.

1/29/2009 07:05:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

just in:

1/29/2009 07:42:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

bob, you don't seem to understand how an institution like a university or museum functions.

Typically they will have what is called an endowment, these are funds which are invested and the investment returns (think interest) become the funds used for running the university or museum.

1. Good years...
So, if you have $100 million invested with a 10% return, each year you would have $10 million for running the institution AND the money invested would still be $100 million, meaning that the next year you could expect another $10 million. As long as the institution does not spend the principle (the $100M) the endowment will continue to pay a return indefinitely.

2. Not so good years...
When the institution spends more than the endowment returns, say they spend $12 million, and the endowment return was $10 million, then the endowment value is reduced to $98 million. The following year, all things being equal, the endowment return is 10% and the institution receives $9.8 million, if they still spend $10 million they go deeper in the hole.

3. Worse...
Suppose the endowment has a bad year, the market crashes or they invest in something which becomes worthless. Then the value of the endowment may shrink to say $90 million, but they still need $10 for operating expenses, so the principle for the next year is now reduced to $80 million. This means that the following year, even if things get better, and the endowment returns %10, they only get $8 million and are forced to spend $2 million from the principle, reducing it now to $78 million.

Pretty soon the endowment is reduced to nothing.

If Brandeis University were to spend the money received from the sale of artworks, then they are just robbing Peter to pay Paul because there is no return on the money from the sales. Eventually it's all spent and we're back at zero again.

There are some things amiss here in this story. According to what I read. the Rose Art Museum is separately funded and operating within its budget.

So it appears then that Brandeis University is not and they have a shortfall. What happened? If they decide they no longer want to have a museum on their campus and that they want to use all the funds connected with the Rose Art Museum for Brandeis University, then they should publicly state this.

As I suggested before I believe this is their intention. Further, I believe the latest statement by Brandeis University that "maybe they won't sell the art, but just close the Rose Art Museum" is an outright lie and fradulant. Once they close the "Art Museum" they have a perfect excuse to sell the art because there is "no place to display it" and achieve what they started out to do in the first place.

The more one reads about this, the more deceptive the trustees of Brandeis University sound. One lie is leading to another and at some point the whole house of cards will come crashing down on them.

1/29/2009 07:49:00 PM  
Blogger David said...

So it's actually a potential 79 million shortfall projected out six years, a tapped out reserve fund, and several major doners were hit by the Madoff scheme, including the Carl and Ruth Shapiro family foundation to the tune of some 545 million. They're facing laying off 30 % of faculty or about 200 people. courtesy Joy Garnett's Facebook post and comments.

1/29/2009 09:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

a collection-based exhibit + conversation

friday, january 30 6-8pm
shapiro student center, brandeis university

The “unanimous” decision by the Trustees of Brandeis University to liquidate the Rose Art Museum’s outstanding permanent collection and to close the facility is not only ill advised, but destructive to the entire Brandeis community. We demand a more detailed explanation as to how this decision was reached, considering the Rose is one of Brandeis’ greatest cultural offerings.

This situation must be remedied in efforts to defend both the reputation of the school and its many concerned students and faculty. We must consider the impact that the Trustees’ decision will have on our experience as students, and our future as professionals.

Using projected and reproduced images from the Rose’s collection of over 6000 art objects and footage from student protests on campus, COMESEEART is the beginning of a conversation on the nature of visual imagery and authenticity, the future of art at Brandeis, and how this weak decision can strengthen us as a community.

Brian Friedberg:
Penelope Taylor:

Join our Facebook group: search “comeseeart”

1/29/2009 09:55:00 PM  
Anonymous nic said...

I don't know that this has any relevance, but here goes anyway.

It seems many people here, and on other blogs and media outlets do or have patronized the museum and greatly appreciate what is there. Having about 5 Brandeis alum acquaintances I asked them about this situation. Only 2 of them have ever been to the Rose. One - an art student who had a work-study there and described it as "boring" and the other - their girlfriend also an art student but who had only been "once or twice" to visit person #1.

Perhaps the museum is not as utilized or appreciated by those closest to it. [granted i could have talked to some bad apples - but i thought it interesting nonetheless.]

1/29/2009 11:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Casp said...

That's what I think, Nic, that Brandeis don't deserve the Rose. But I support any efforts for the Rose to survive. I think it should move, unless they can manage the tensions that these events will unfold.

Cedric C

1/30/2009 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher/Mark said...

I have not noticed reference to the fact that a number of the most valuable works in the Brandeis collection were bought for comparatively low prices, by Sam Hunter I believe. The Johns and Rauschenberg and Warhol probably cost well under $5000 each.

So the notion that somebody might say "Would you like us to leave you our Warhol, a silk screen of some dead people in a car accident, when we pass, or would like the 20 mil we can get for it at the next big auction?" as offered by lookinaroundbob, would never occur.

1/30/2009 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Art = Cash. Isn't that the very foundation of gallery business?

1/30/2009 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes its a shame, but perhaps its time that the tail no longer wags the dog. Don't forget that the donors get a nice fat charitable tax deduction for the "fair market value" of the art. Remember former Brandeis Professor Maslow's theory-- we need to provide for our basic physiology and safety before we get to be able to worry about our self-actualization. I would suggest that our chemistry, biology, and physics graduates have a better chance of improving the life of mankind than artists.

1/30/2009 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger jeff f said...

This wont happen so fast, The Attorney General of Massachusetts will be investigating and has a say in this. They will be looking at every donation and putting each one under a legal microscope.

Brandeis can close the museum but it will be a year or more before they can sell a single piece of art.

1/31/2009 02:26:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art = Cash. Isn't that the very foundation of gallery business?

I knew, even as I was writing that headline, that someone would only half think this through and throw back that jab. I'm somewhat surprised it didn't happen sooner, but then perhaps that's encouraging.

Just so those who don't understand the difference between the mission of a commercial gallery and that of a museum are clear about this, the first mission of a commercial gallery selling fine art is not to turn art into cash, but to accomplish sales eventually by providing the context and thereby the evidence that the art they're selling is important enough to preserve. The quintessential goal of those efforts is to get that work into a museum where is it assumed that art will be preserved for many future generations and exhibited for educational purposes. Providing that context and creating that art takes a lot of start-up capital, expertise, and extreme risk (for both artists and dealers) in such a competitive field, and it's entirely fair that artists and dealers who are good at what they do be compensated for it. Yes, there are other avenues to getting work in museums outside the commercial gallery system, but it's perhaps the most efficient/effective in place today.

Even if one ignores the subtleties therein, though, it still remains weak to compare a gallery's mission with that of a museum and in doing so serve to offer such a lame excuse for Brandies' board's actions.

1/31/2009 08:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: value... on the secondary market i.e. de-accessioning you are not talking about whether art=cash you are talking about breaking promises, thwarting expectations and disrupting context of a piece of art. sadly the public has been losing out for years when a public institution sells of a piece of art (which it also does not pay taxes on) into private hands, it is no longer available for viewing, research & documentation

1/31/2009 09:15:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Anon, (1/30/2009 09:30:00 PM)

I'm sure you understand that any "tax deduction" associated with the Rose Art Gallery collection occurred years ago and that any forthcoming sale of artworks will not be tax deductible.

I disagree with your suggestion that "... that our chemistry, biology, and physics graduates have a better chance of improving the life of mankind than artists."

But, where are those supporters now that Brandeis University is dire need of refunding its endowments? If, as you suggest, this argument is true, why aren't the Brandeis University trustees able to raise funds for the sciences? Surely, in the most technology driven economy on the planet they can find funding?

I am sure the trustees are going to do what they feel is necessary, but I feel they are taking the easy way out. The obvious solution is to close all the humanities departments, fire all the English professors, the sociologists, the historians, fire the lot of them. Clearly that would save a lot of money.

1/31/2009 10:52:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Value of art hinges on what art is in museums. Art donated to museums effects the value of similar art on the commercial market.

A lot of art unworthy of museum status has found its way into museums since the 1960s.

Not only this Rose Museum, but many museums have been used to artificially elevate art prices on the commercial markets.

This museum closing will not be the only one closing in the coming years and donations of art to this museum will not be the only place investigated.

It is likely we will be reading about the investigations by Attorney Generals in many states.

Art is a commodity and the art markets have been manipulated by many museums, and what has been donated to them, in many states, for decades.

By the time the AG investigation into the Rose is made public in the years to come, there will be other museums taking the headlines and the discussion will focus on art and money. Market manipulation and insider trading will be the talk of many towns.

This is the tip of a field of icebergs, wait and see.

2/01/2009 12:44:00 PM  

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