Nothing the administrators said or did inspired much confidence. The initial proposal to convert the Rose into a "fine-arts teaching center" sounded much like the scuttled plan for the Edmond J. Safra Center for the Arts, which was to feature a gallery, student art studios, critique space, a lecture hall, and a seminar room. Maybe someone hoped to salvage it through the Rose.
Roy Dawes, the Rose's assistant director of operations for six years and a member of the Future of the Rose Committee, will become the new leader of the Rose as director of museum operations after other staff depart at the end of June. "I'm in a position where I have to believe that they're being genuine in their desire to have this museum open to the public beginning on July 22 and going forward," he says. "That's my plan. And that's my charge. So that's what I'm doing."
Even so, that leaves the Rose with Dawes plus a registrar and a part-time financial adviser, but no curator, director, or programming staff. Which means that its tradition of prescient curating — as attested by its 2006 survey of Dana Schutz, now perhaps the most esteemed American painter under 40 — will be mothballed.
The heart of the Rose collection comes from a $50,000 donation that the museum's first director, Sam Hunter, used in 1962 and '63 to buy paintings by Warhol, Rauschenberg, Johns, and Lichtenstein. Hunter bought when these now canonical artists were just getting established — a gamble that paid off fabulously.
Charles Giuliano, Brandeis class of '63, who went on to become a Boston-area art critic, teacher, and curator, remembers the Brandeis of the '60s as a radical school that sheltered professors who had been blacklisted by McCarthyism, attracting students like Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman. That spirit, he argues, allowed Hunter to make his purchases. "They did that through courage and imagination and through risk taking. That was the Brandeis lesson: risk taking."
The collection was appraised at $350 million a couple of years ago. "Even in the current environment they could probably get close to $100 million with a couple of artworks," Rush laments. "Probably. And then you have totally compromised the mission, destroyed it, forever. Because you can never get them back. And the greatness of the collection is based precisely on those key, key works."
If Brandeis moves to sell, it'll likely face lawsuits from donors. What's more, the state attorney general's office could nix sales if the donations came with restrictions. Rush doesn't hold out much hope for the latter course. "We have not been able to find any restriction on that [Hunter $50,000] gift."
One responsible course the school could take would be to try to sell the masterpieces as a group to a local museum that will guarantee they remain accessible to the public. Brandeis wouldn't be able to realize the same amount of money — or it would have to sell more works to make its target figure (whatever that is). You could, of course, argue that, having shown it's not going to be a good steward of its collection, the school might as well sell the whole thing.