The Battle Over The Rose Art Museum Gets Ugly
At the start of the year I mentioned the fact that Brandeis Unversity's Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts would be closing and that the museum would be selling off some of the artwork. But the Boston Globe reports that the museum is not going down without a fight. A board of overseers has filed a lawsuit to stop the university from closing the museum, selling the artwork and using the museum's endowment for any other purposes. The lawsuit was filed in the state's highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, and is the first legal challenge to the move to close the museum.
The plaintiffs include museum benefactors Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee, and Lois Foster. They have asked for a preliminary injunction to keep art from being sold and an order to keep the museum open. They would like to see Brandeis surrender the artwork and endowment funds to another organization which would create a permanent, public art museum. This is no modest college museum, it has around 7,000 pieces of modern and contemporary art with an estimated value of $350 million. The Rose Art Museum collects American art of the 1960s and 1970s and has pieces by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Morris Louis, James Rosenquist, and Andy Warhol. The lawsuit draws attention to the fact that the museum is more than just something of value on a monetary level but that it is also of cultural importance to the community and that the university's acceptance of the art and funds represents a contract with the benefactors.
Thomas Reilly, the former Massachusetts attorney general and outside counsel for Brandeis had some harsh words for the overseers' lawsuit. In a statement he said that the university has a responsibility to offer the best education it can and that "apparently, these three overseers are oblivious to the Brandeis mission.'' Brandeis has commissioned a report to examine the Rose's future and are currently transitioning the public art museum into an educational arts center for Brandeis students and faculty. This is a move that Jonathan Lee sees as a route to help make it easier for the art to be sold. Lee's mother started donating to the museum from her collection of American Expressionist art shortly after the museum's founding in 1961 and court documents say that if the Rose is no longer a public art museum then her artwork should revert to her estate to be donated to other museums. Reilly has said that the university will "aggressively defend'' its position in court.