Friday, January 30, 2009

"Had it not been for the deaccessioning rules . . . the Rose Art Museum might well have lived"

Felix Salmon gets it straight from the horse's mouth (the horse in this case being Brandeis director of communications in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, David Nathan) that, as he puts in the title to his latest post on the subject, the "deaccessioning rules doomed the Rose Art Museum":

"Brandeis has been saying that it's not going to be selling off all of the Rose Art Museum's art at once -- or even, necessarily, any of it at all. So I asked Nathan why the museum needed to be shut down, if the university is going to hold on to the vast majority of its art for the near future.

"Nathan told me that the reason is that selling art which is part of a museum is very difficult indeed. Clearly, Brandeis has come to the conclusion that by shutting down the museum, it can ignore all rules pertaining to deaccessioning, and worry only about the strings attached by donors to individual artworks. . . .

"On NPR Wednesday, Brandeis's president, Jehuda Reinharz, said that he'd received a phone call from the donor of a Warhol worth over $1 million, saying that the university came first, and giving Brandeis full permission to sell the painting if it needed to.

"But even if the donor was perfectly happy for Brandeis to sell the Warhol, the Association of Art Museum Directors would not have been . . . . So it seems that for the sake of doing an end-run around the objections of the AAMD and the museum's executives, Brandeis decided to close the museum entirely.

"Had it not been for the deaccessioning rules, then, the Rose Art Museum might well have lived. There's a good chance that its director would have resigned in protest at his art being sold from underneath him, but then he would simply have been replaced by someone more complaisant .... It would have been a deplorable outcome, but still one preferable to what we're facing today. (Sorry, Tyler, but the loss of a few artworks -- especially if they're sold to other museums -- really is preferable to the loss of an entire museum.)"