In the New York Times this morning, Holland Cotter has some advice for "university administrators toying with thoughts of closing their campus museums and peddling the art, as Brandeis recently threatened to do":
"Just stop. Period. Bad way to go. If it helps, consider your museum and its collection in purely materialistic terms, as a big chunk of capital, slowly and fortuitously accumulated. Once spent, it is irrecoverable. Your university can never be that rich in that way again. Or view the art in your care as something that doesn’t belong to you. Like any legacy it belongs to the future."
He goes on to say that "university museums are unlike other museums. They are not intended to be powerhouse displays of masterworks .... They are, before all else, teaching instruments intended for hands-on use by students and scholars." They "are, at their best, equal parts classroom, laboratory, entertainment center and spiritual gym where good ideas are worked out and bad ideas are worked off."
Obviously this is meant to be a sharp criticism of the Brandeis move, but I'm not sure how effective it really is. Remember, the university's current plan is not to padlock the doors to the Rose and put all the work on eBay. They've been saying they plan to transform it into a research-and-study-center-slash-gallery ("The Rose museum ... will be turned into an educational center for Brandeis students and faculty, Reinharz told the Globe .... It will include more student and faculty exhibits, and the public will still be allowed to visit. 'We're saying we're turning it into a gallery and a teaching site for the faculty of the fine arts,' Reinharz told the Globe").
In other words, "before all else," it will be a "teaching instrument for hands-on use by students and scholars." At its best, it will be "equal parts classroom, laboratory, entertainment center and spiritual gym where good ideas are worked out and bad ideas are worked off." It may have slightly fewer works available than it does now to serve those various functions, but it should never have been intended as a "powerhouse display of masterworks" anyway.
When you look at it that way, the move doesn't seem so bad, now does it?