Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Rose Settlement

The Brandeis-Rose Art Museum lawsuit has settled.  The initial press reports, however, misstate the nature of the agreement.

The Boston Globe headline is "Rose Art Museum will sell no art," and the lede to its story is:  "Brandeis University has agreed to put in writing that it will sell none of the Rose Art Museum's prized collection of modern art."

The LA Times says Brandeis "has stated that it won't sell pieces from the Rose Art Museum's collection."

The Chronicle of Higher Education says Brandeis announced "that it would not sell any part of its prized collection of modern art at its Rose Art Museum."

The Art Newspaper says Brandeis "promise[d] to keep the museum open without putting any of its art up for sale."

That isn't quite right.  What the settlement agreement says (you can read it here; see the last sentence of paragraph 1) is that Brandeis "has no aim, plan, design, strategy or intention to sell any artwork."

There's a big difference between saying that and saying they promise not to sell any artwork.

It's like saying I don't have any plan to have sushi for dinner tonight.  If I change my mind in a couple of hours, I haven't breached my earlier "agreement" in any way.

Similarly, if circumstances change at some point down the road and Brandeis wants to revisit the question of selling some art, there is nothing in this agreement to stop them.  It's a pretty meaningless document.

(Randy Kennedy's New York Times story gets it right -- noting that "the settlement does not say that the museum will categorically never sell works.")

The press reports also emphasize that the Rose is to remain a public museum -- as if that is some sort of major concession the plaintiff's won in the lawsuit -- but that's something Brandeis had committed to on its own long ago.