Rose in bloom: Reopening exhibits trace 50-year history

Three exhibitions showcase the museum's renowned permanent collection


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The Rose Art Museum reopened on Oct. 27 with a celebration of its 50th anniversary and three new exhibits help tell its story – past, present and future.

Art at the Origin: The Early ‘60s,” “Collecting Stories” and “Bruce Conner: EVE-RAY-FOREVER (1965/2006),” lead visitors through some of the earliest acquisitions for The Rose, those that have been integral to the museum’s development over time and its newest acquisition, respectively.

“It’s a time of great renewal at The Rose and the galleries are looking spectacular” following recent completion of a $1.7 million renovation, says Roy Dawes, the museum’s director of operations.

For some students, like Rebeccah Ulm ’11, PB ’12, who were drawn to Brandeis University by the museum, the reopening, which was celebrated publicly on Oct. 27, offers the first new exhibits they've seen since early in their college careers.

“[The value of the Rose is] the value of emotion. It’s the value of the kind of experience that awakens you to something,” Ulm says. “It expands your mind and your perception of the world and yourself and the way you interact with society. These are the kinds of things that The Rose facilitates."

Within five years of its opening in 1961, the Rose Art Museum housed one of the most daring contemporary art collections at any university, including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. Between 1962 and 1963, Leon and Harriet Mnuchin donated a $50,000 inheritance for the purpose of acquiring contemporary art. Half of the Art at the Origin show, housed in the newly renovated Gerald S. and Sandra Fineberg Gallery, was purchased from that gift.

“When you open a museum as late as the 1960s, saying you’re going to collect across time is insane,” says Dabney Hailey, director of academic programs for The Rose. “[Art at the Origin] revels in this incredible moment from 1960 to 1965. It’s like walking back into New York in the sixties and seeing all the different types of painting going on then.”

Among those works is a painting by James Rosenquist, a pop-artist ​who came to prominence during that period. Rosenquist’s “Two 1959 People,” was purchased with Mnuchin’s gift and will be featured in the exhibit.

Rosenquist, who has had a long association with The Rose beginning with that acquisition, returned for the reopening. Rosenquist attended the opening celebration and, gave a talk and slide presentation earlier in the day.  

The visit to The Rose was Rosenquist's first since 2001. Rosenquist says it’s important for not just students, but the community at large, to learn about the museum’s treasures.

“Any institution that exhibits artwork for the community really imparts humanism to that community,” Rosenquist says. “That’s the bottom line.”

The Rose’s growth over five decades is captured in “Collecting Stories,” from gifts of modernist paintings that inspired the Rose’s formation to contemporary art acquisitions connected to the museum's history of bold exhibitions. Works by Juan Gris, Nam June Paik and Marsden Hartley are featured in this selection of works from the museum’s trove of more than 7,000 pieces.

Adding a modern twist, many of the artworks have QR codes, and the museum has iPads on hand for celebrants to scan art and see a bit of its history.

“Students are learning and going through this pivotal period in their lives – when they are figuring out who they are, what they want to do, what matters to them. To make contemporary art a part of that process is unbelievably important. And that those folks managed to believe in that and fund it and make it happen in that moment is really spectacular,” Hailey says, referring to Mnuchin, The Rose’s first director Sam Hunter, as well Brandeis’ first president Abram Sachar and initial donors Edward and Bertha Rose. “It shows a commitment to art and art’s place in our world that I admire."

The final exhibit is Bruce Conner's recreation of “EVE-RAY-FOREVER (1965/2006),” his controversial and provocative film installation first shown in 1965. After the film proved too delicate to restore, Conner ​digitally recreated it and sold it to the museum anew.

“Art is just this amazing vehicle and opportunity for people to come in and have an experience with an object that evokes something within them that isn’t otherwise on your radar,” Ulm says. “It’s this opportunity to come to a place and stand in front of something and just totally give yourself over and think and feel something and connect with something you don’t have the chance to in your normal hustle and bustle routine.

To be able to come into the gallery and sit and look at a painting that I have read about and seen in a book but is completely different up close...everything changes when it’s physically present in front of you.”