Priorities and Roses
On the "Brandies: Art = Cash" thread, an anonymous commenter associated with the university offered the following justification for the decision by their board to close the Rose Art Museum in order to be free to sell off its "permanent" collection:
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.I would submit that it's debatable whether the basic physiology and safety of anyone at Brandeis is truly threatened by a budget deficit (if so, universities would have been forced to liquidate their museums' permanent collection repeatedly throughout the last century, economic cycles being what they are). But this notion, that art is secondary to chemistry, biology, and physics in terms of importance during difficult times, reminded me of another Rose. Not a museum, but a person.
This Rose, however, faced true threats to her personal safety, not merely the inconveniences of tightening one's belt that every department at Brandeis should be willing to do voluntarily to save the museum, IMO, but actual torture or death if her mission had been discovered. I refer, of course, to Rose Valland:
In comparison with the threats Valland faced, the temporary financial difficulties of any American university at the moment obviously pale. Moreover, it's highly insulting to treat a collection as rich as the Rose's as mere property, IMO. As Pablo Helguera so eloquently put it in his post on Art World Salon, a collection like that the Rose has built represents "the labor of generations of collectors, curators and philanthropists." In other words, a significant slice of our collective culture and a collective commitment to preserve it, as such, for future generations. What will emerge from the labs of a university's chemistry, biology and physics departments may indeed greatly benefit future generations' minds and bodies, but what of their spirits...what of their souls? It's short sighted to suggest only the former are worth preserving.
Rose Valland (1898-1980) was a curator at the Louvre Museum in Paris during the Second World War. In 1940, as German forces began their occupation of France, Nazi officials took over the Louvre's Jeu de Paume Museum -- a modest gallery of Impressionist works, located in the Tuileries Gardens. They used the building for a sinister purpose: to store priceless works of art confiscated from French museums and Jewish-owned private collections. Valland supervised the daily operations of the Jeu de Paume, while the Nazis filled it with plundered masterpieces. The Germans likely viewed her as a quiet, methodical administrator. What they didn't suspect was that she understood German. And perhaps Valland never suspected the importance of the role she was about to play.[...]
The Nazis enlisted Valland to catalogue their stolen art objects. As she quietly worked, she eavesdropped on discussions in German and kept secret lists of the plundered treasures. As much as possible, she tracked the dispersements and shipments of art. Because the Nazis photographed every object they stole, Valland pocketed the negatives as she left at night and made copies of them. On four occasions, the Nazis became suspicious of Valland and threw her out. Yet each time, she managed to return and to continue spying.
[...]By the end of the war, as the Nazis grew anxious to evacuate the museum and ship out their precious cargo, Valland thwarted them. A train bound for Germany, loaded with French paintings and other valuables, never made it out of Paris -- thanks to Valland. She reported her observations to the French Resistance, whose sabotage efforts stalled the train until the Allies came to liberate Paris. After the war, using Valland's documents, the French informed the Allies where some of Europe's most cherished art treasures were hidden.
Valland spent the remainder of her life working diligently to recover and protect French cultural property. The French government awarded Valland numerous honors for her lifetime of courage and devoted service. She was a recipient of the Légion d'honneur, the Médaille de la Résistance, and was named a Commandeur of the Order of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s, she also received the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.