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Letters

From the Extended Brandeis Community (and Beyond) 


I enrolled as an undergraduate at Brandeis inspired by the Heller School and the notion of effecting social policy as a life’s work.  As a sophomore, I changed my major to Art History and began the interdisciplinary reading that was to inform my honor’s thesis on the WPA Federal Art Project in Massachusetts and its multivalent missions to inspire through the arts, enliven public spaces, employ artists in meaningful work, and express a national belief in a progressive future.  I am indebted to the great teaching of Carl Belz, Stephen Whitfield (in American Studies) and Gerry Bernstein, and the supportive oversight of artist Mitchell Siporin, who himself worked on the FAP.


But I am equally indebted to the Rose.  As a sophomore, I sought out its serene spaces and vibrant works of the 1960s, which were, at that time, only a few years old. Then, as a senior I took the Museum Studies seminar that Carl taught, and Adam Weinberg and I partnered to research a study collection of early 20th century objects—William Zorach sculpture and more.  They weren’t exciting—not like the Pop art at the Rose, or the Color Field paintings I was discovering through Carl’s Greenbergian analysis and the programs of Kenworth Moffett at the MFA, Boston—but they were tangible, and they embodied the era I was studying, giving me a physical link to that past that I could touch with my own gloved hands.  I was electrified.


I’ve been a curator, museum director and arts producer for more than thirty years now and I’m still over-the-moon excited about the art and artists with whom I work. The most invigorating part of my current work is the commitment I feel to teaching through the collection I’m helping to build and through the exhibitions I organize and bring to the Blanton, the largest university art museum in the U.S. I work with faculty throughout the campus—in Studio Art & Art History, in Theatre and Dance, in Information Science, Film, Math and English, History and yes, Public Policy, and more. Works of art are artifacts of history, each was contemporary to its own moment, and we can use them to access the history of ideas, events, viewpoints—sometimes in more direct and engaging ways than through investigating texts.


An art museum is absolutely central to the teaching mission of a liberal arts university. We who are passionate and well informed--dare I say well educated, thanks to beginnings at Brandeis--know this implicitly, and I applaud the discussion that you are having this afternoon to bring these thoughts to light.


Annette DiMeo Carlozzi, ‘75

Curator of American & Contemporary Art and

Director of Curatorial Affairs

Blanton Museum of Art

The University of Texas at Austin



I am an alumna, class of 1962.  I am retired from a career of teaching art history at a university and working as a field archeologist in Israel and elsewhere.  Although my main interests are in ancient art and archaeology I recognize the value of modern and contemporary arts in higher education and I am outraged that the President and Trustees don't seem to think that the arts are part of the university's "core mission" of teaching and research.  This is the same shortsighted approach seen in conservative members of congress who view the arts as "frills" or "elite pastimes" and not as something that enriches all of us in every community, and most of all on college campuses where young minds are learning to stretch and open up to to joys of higher learning and the richness of experience provided by the arts as well as by more traditional academic pursuits. I will certainly take all of this into consideration as I consider my annual donation to the university.


I have read the letters posted on the Rose Art Museum's web page and I hope you will add this one to it.


Sincerely,

Jane Cohn Waldbaum, '62

Professor Emerita, Department of Art History

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Past President, Archaeological Institute of America


Dear Prof. Reinharz,

I am writing to you both as a member of the Brandeis family and as an historian of medieval Europe who has also served as a Faculty Senate President at my university.  I hope to offer you both a viewpoint not hitherto considered and a suggestion for help with Brandeis University’s funding.


First, the point of view.  As you know, Louis Dembitz Brandeis’s closest friend (in addition to his wife, Alice) throughout his life remained his brother, Alfred, who, along with his wife, four daughters, and numerous Dembitz, Wehle, Brandeis, and Tachau cousins, remained in Louisville after Louis left for Boston.  All remained in close contact with the Justice, through nearly daily letters and frequent visits.  This was the clan among whom my younger sibblings and I, the great-grandchildren of Alfred Brandeis, grew up.  My sister, Susan McKee Tachau, my brother, David Brandeis Tachau, and I were enculturated by Alfred’s daughters (our great-aunts and grandmother), our grandfather (Louis’ and Alfred’s cousin), and our father, to adopt the values that Louis and Alfred Brandeis had inherited from their family. And we learned from the generation who had known the Justice about the ways that he “gave back” to the community in which he had grown up.


It is well known that Justice Brandeis assisted the law school in Louisville, and that he and Alice are buried there.  But the law school was not the initial focus of his efforts.  Instead, at the top of his agenda were the fine arts.  He articulated the centrality in an academic context of the arts and their study in correspondence to several family members in the 1920s.  These letters reveal his orchestration of a campaign to assist the small University of Louisville to grow into a serious institution of higher learning.  By 1924, he was raising money, donating books and possessions, and commissioning his brother, Alfred Brandeis, his nieces and nephews, and at least two cousins, to help create the necessary resources for faculty and students.


On October 20, 1924, he wrote to Alfred’s daughter, Fannie Brandeis, about the responsibilities he hoped she would assume:  “Dear Fannie,” he began, “until the University of Louisville shall be equipped to promote the study of the fine arts and music, one of its important functions must remain unperformed.  Doubtless many years will elapse before adequate provision for this can be made.  But it is not too early to begin, now, to dream what might be; and to plan what shall be.  Moreover, any concrete steps toward realization taken now, however modest they be, will, as overt acts, manifest the purpose of the University, and may be the means of securing from others needed cooperation. I hope you will care to do some of this planning and will undertake the small beginnings which I want to suggest.”


“First.  The beginning of a departmental library. … Obviously, the earlier civilizations cannot be understood without full appreciation of their contributions to the fine arts. … Thus, books on ancient arts and archaeology are primal needs of instructors who seek to awaken in students an interest in the achievements of a great past and to feed the hope for a greater future. …”


“Second.  The beginning of an art collection.  Living among things of beauty is a help toward culture and the life worthwhile.  But the function of a university in respect to the fine arts is not limited to promoting understanding and appreciation.  It should strive to awaken the slumbering creative instinct, to encourage its exercise and development, to stimulate production. …” (I am quoting from The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy [University of Oklahoma Press: 2002]).


Louis Brandeis worked behind the scenes to encourage Hattie Speed of Louisville to create an Art Museum in memory of her husband for the University of Louisville. Two of the earliest donations to the resulting Speed Art Museum were from Louis and Alice Brandeis: an extraordinary antique Japanese lacquer box and a painting that had been given to them by the Speeds.


Thus, as I hope the above makes apparent, by assessing the art collection as merely a disposable financial asset rather than as the culturally and intellectually valuable ensemble that it is, your university’s trustees and your administration have proposed to act not only without full appreciation of core objectives of any university, but against those that Justice Brandeis himself most actively fostered.  I therefore urge you to abandon any plans of selling any portion whatsoever of the art collection of the Rose Museum, or of diminishing its role.


Now for the suggestion.  The financial pressures that Brandeis University faces, that have led you and your Board of Trustees to this juncture, are widely shared in academe.  Your situation illustrates the dire straits into which universities are being propelled – an accelerating catastrophe that an increase in Pell Grants (important as that is) does almost nothing to slow, because students’ tuition does not cover the cost of their education.  Of course, senators, representatives, their staffs, and members of the Obama administration, are rarely if ever equipped by their experience to understand the complexities of building and retaining excellent faculty in the entire range of complementary subjects in Colleges of Liberal Arts that make it possible for our students to live what Louis Brandeis termed “the life worthwhile.”  I wonder, therefore, if you could turn the controversy over the Rose Museum to the advantage of all colleges and universities, private and public.  Your very public financial constraints could be the beginning point for obtaining a true “stimulus package” from Congress that makes it possible to save and improve them.  If automobile manufacturers and banks merit such help, why not higher education?


Leading such an effort, I think, would repair much of the damage done to Brandeis University’s reputation by the overhasty decision to deaccession the Rose Museum.  ... I would be happy to help in other ways,


Yours sincerely,

Katherine H. Tachau

Professor of History and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Fellow

University of Iowa



Dear Jehuda -


As an artist and valued former Preparator [25 years] of the Rose Art Museum, I was stunned at the news of your decision to sell the collection and effectively terminate the Rose as we know it. Two things struck me very quickly: the panicked, irrational expediency of the 'solution' [high value, under utilized assets, just SITTING THERE; paintings awaiting their moment to be beaten into Silver Bullets!] and the blinkered method of it's birth - excluding from the discussion the CURRENT DIRECTOR [Michael Rush] was not only unforgivable, but nearing the Kafkaesque - like having a trial without a defendant. The Museum, and its extraordinary collection, deserved to have at least one, yes, ADVOCATE, present.


Equally dismaying is how shortsighted the proposal really is.  The university's  fiscal woes are undeniable [we trusted the experts, sitting in closed meetings], but because of this decision, donors by the dozens are already looking elsewhere - more damage to the stature of Brandeis is being done than will ever be gained by the fantasy of a 'quick fix' as outlined in your letter. Already there are legal and ethical challenges afoot that will slow or stop the process, for this sets an example that threatens every university art collection around the country - Harvard has also taken big hits lately, but I don't think the Fogg is on the block, yet. As Michael pointed out recently, foot traffic here isn't the only measure of the Rose's reach - around the world, many thousands of people are becoming 'friends of Brandeis' through loans of the museums collection, and I can tell you, from personal observation, there are two generations of museum professionals [Gary Tinterow, Adam Weinberg come immediately to mind] for whom the Rose was their first, and lasting, inspiration.


From the start, Brandeis was founded to be a world class liberal arts institution, a mission it has certainly accomplished by any measure while still being a 'work in progress'. The visual arts, primed by the guidance and generosity of countless artists, teachers, curators, and collectors, have enriched the lives of all who have come here. Pursuing this path will surely diminish the university experience as a whole, and mark Brandeis by a self inflicted cultural wound.


I will leave you with a suggestion: wrap your arms around some humility, re-convene another board meeting, with the department  in question equitably represented, and try to forge an outcome that will garner cheers, rather than jeers.


Most sincerely, and with warmest regards,

Roger Kizik

To:

Scott Edmiston, Director

Office of the Arts

Brandeis University

Waltham, MA



Dear Scott:


Clearly, as a member of the faculty, you cannot share your true feelings about this cultural destruction that would have Abe Sachar, Sam Hunter, the founding generation of hard-working immigrants, and the donors of art in perpetuity rolling over in their graves.  Our forebearers had the wisdom to recognize the need to expose young people to the joys of a liberal arts education.  Theirs was a generation of hard work, thrift, no sense of entitlement, and great sacrifice so that the next generation would have more.


I majored in economics, have done well in my career on Wall Street, and know that Brandeis was formative in my success as the exposure to many disciplines showed me how much of an unfinished product I was and instilled in me a sense of curiosity and wonderment.  I gained an awareness of the Rose in my freshman year as I walked from Shapiro B to other areas of the campus and occasionally was drawn into the museum.


Some thirty years later, my interests germinated into serious study and collecting modernist American art.  Throughout my life, the image of a large comb on a small bed with a blue sky forming the wall of what appeared to be a modest bedroom has frequently flashed in my mind as I think back to the Rene Magritte exhibit I saw at the Rose in the mid-1960's.  I had been to museums before but the comfortable informality of stopping by, even if it did not register as huge foot traffic in the administration's eyes, allowed for easy engagement.


I believe the administration and the Board of Trustees are claiming they have to lop off the University's left arm in order to save the patient. If this were true, it would be a sad commentary on the stewardship that they inherited from capable predecessors who started the University with a vision and a mission and built into an extraordinary institution.  It somehow feels like the handoff by Clinton to Bush in 2001 with budget surpluses morphing into large deficits.  The analogy to selling the Rose's art would be for the Bush administration to have auctioned off the national forests and national parks to balance the budget.


When I entered Brandeis in the fall of 1963, tuition was around $1500/year. During the past 45 years tuition has increased by around 7.5%/year far outpacing inflation and just about any other cost with the exception of heathcare.  Despite all the inefficiencies in the healthcare system, it can be convincingly argued that great advances in treatment have evolved over the past four decades. It is not clear that the same is true in higher education where teachers are teaching less, teaching assistants, rather than professors, are more involved with students than in the past, computers have substituted for human interaction,  the academic year has been shortened and grade inflation to satisfy the consumer [parents] has reduced the standard for excellence.


About ten years ago I was invited to a luncheon of Brandeis Wall Street professionals in NYC at which President Reinharz, whom I respect and admire, spoke.  At the end of the luncheon the president asked what if anything stopped any of us from contributing more to Brandeis.  I told him that I had reservations about the cost escalations in higher education in general and at Brandeis in particular and the ability of middle class families to afford the high and growing tuition costs.  I suggested that just raising money to cover shortfalls without fiscal discipline was "feeding the monster."


I further mentioned that with professors teaching only one or two courses per week the student experience was diluted and personnel costs would escalate.  President Reinharz explained that Brandeis was a research university and professors focused much time and energy on research that was a great benefit to the student body.  He then indicated that if we were to compete with Harvard we had to provide a working environment and compensation competitive with Harvard's.


I believed then as I believe now that excellence is critical for Brandeis. However, any attempt to compete with Harvard, its 350-year history, huge endowment and mature and established network, is a nonstarter that only distracts us from our mission.  One of the paintings I remember seeing in that Magritte exhibition 45 years ago was titled "Delusions of Grandeur."  If the trustees and administration had thought about this painting over the years and recognized that revenue shortfalls not covered by rapidly rising tuition might not always be made up by deep-pocket benefactors, their exercise of financial sanity could well have averted the current crisis.


I am not aware of the Rose's operating budget.  No doubt the expenses associated with heating, staffing, insurance, etc. far exceed the revenues.  It is apparent that closing the museum is the cover for raiding the "cookie jar."  It would have been an honest statement to say that the university is raiding the vault and as a consequence it must close the Rose.  Otherwise, it would violate the ethical code of museums which permits deaccessioning only to provide funds for new acquisitions of art or for art restoration but never for operating expenses or endowments.


In the same spirit, the University would be well served to make statements consistent with its motto, "Truth even unto its innermost parts," rather than engaging in "spin."  The University could declare that it has chosen to sell its art legacy as an expedient to protect the vested interests of the administration and faculty even though it will seriously compromise its core academic mission and reputation, perhaps permanently.


Sincerely,

Harvey M. Ross '67

Member, Brandeis Arts Council


Prof Rush,


I just left you a message, but wanted to send a note as well. Is there anything Brandeis alumni can do to stop the devastating and irresponsible closing of the Rose Art Museum. As you know, the Rose is truly one of the great university museums and for Brandeis to be a well rounded liberal arts university, it is essential for students to have access to its collection and facility.


Please tell me what I can do to get involved in any form of petition, letter writing campaign, etc, to save an institution that truly changed the course of my life and career.


Sincerely,

Phillip Bahar

Brandeis Class of ‘91

Minneapolis, MN



Dear President Reinharz,


I cannot begin to express my shock, disbelief and disappointment in your decision to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its collection in order to meet financial pressures brought on by the current state of the economy. Your decision is short-sighted, irreversible and one you will find hard to live with in the future. It will forever change the character of the university, diminishing its breadth and diversity of the student body, faculty and the potential for Brandeis to be a leader in the humanities.


As a fine arts graduate of Brandeis's class of '76, I spent hours at the Rose pouring over "real" art, studying the surfaces, examining frames, researching histories, and writing entries. This first-hand experience was vastly different from visiting a museum and looking at pictures on a wall. It was the real thing, 3-d, inspirational. I was saddened when the university decided to


sell its collection before 1900 in order to specialize in modern art, but at least it was making an effort to keep a narrower mission alive for New England and for the students. My experiences at The Rose motivated me to pursue a career in painting conservation. Following Brandeis, I graduated from NYU's Institute of Fine Arts in 1980 with a Masters Degree in Art History and a certificate in conservation and am now head of painting conservation at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. I have published extensively, trained many conservators and received the Prix de Rome. I was proud of my Brandeis education and that the university did not serve just those interested in studying Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and pre-med. I sink inside at the thought that Brandeis will no longer serve the needs of students like me who discovered their calling at a university museum. Gary Tinterow, curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was in my class and similarly found his footing at the Rose. At this point, if I were a prospective student, I would not apply to Brandeis knowing that the fine arts were considered irrelevant to my education. As you must be aware, your actions are considered unethical by the American Association of Museum Directors as recently described in an article in last months New York Times, specifically in reference to the New York Academy of Design. Only in their case they sold two paintings, not an entire collection. I cannot begin to imagine what is going through the minds of those who contributed their artwork to the Rose Art Museum for the benefit of the students and the community and the greater ramifications for future benefactors to the university because of this brash action. Furthermore, with the economy and art market as they are, you also must be aware that only the very best artwork is finding a buyer and that the market is far from what it would be at a more solvent time.


I hope that this decision is not irreversible that it will be reconsidered. I am embarrassed by your decision and will no longer make an annual contribution, as I have for my entire working adult life, for Brandeis no longer lives up to my ideals of what a university should be.


I would very much like to send this letter to the chairman of the board of trustees at the university and would appreciate your sending me his/her email address. I look forward to hearing from you.


Yours sincerely,

Eric Gordon

Head of Painting Conservation

The Walters Art Museum

Baltimore, MD



Dear Mr. Michael Rush,


I was very sad to read the forwarded article below on the Rose Art Museum and its collection (a friend sent it to me). I did my internship at the Rose Art Museum in 1999 (I did an Audience Study for the museum) and think it is a wonderful contemporary art museum (Joseph D. Ketner was the director at the time).


I hope that this can be avoided and will not be the true destiny of the Rose Art Museum.


I wish you all the best,


Rakel Halldorsdottir,


Managing Director of the Museum Council of Iceland



"The Rape of the Rose"


Although the art world boomed along with the financial industry during the past 15 years, many institutions showed signs of failing long before the recent financial collapse. Over the past couple of years, a number of museums have experienced unprecedented crises. Fisk University tried to sell from its collection of modernist masterpieces given to it by Georgia O’Keeffe, the National Academy of Design sold two of its mid-19th century masterpieces to pay for operating expenses, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles almost went bankrupt and even considered selling its collection until arts patron Eli Broad came to its rescue with a $30 million gift. Trustees ponied up another $20 million, giving the museum, which has a superb collection of post-World War II art,  a second chance.


But the recent decision by the President and Board of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its collection overshadows all the other crises. The Rose has one of the most unique collections of post-World War II art in the country and arguably the best collection of 20th and 21st century art in the Boston area. It owns Andy Warhol’s “Saturday Disaster,” one of his greatest works; a gorgeous 1950s “landscape” by Willem de Kooning; one of the best of Motherwell’s Spanish Elegies; an iconic Roy Lichtenstein cartoon painting; an early “gray” Jasper Johns painting; a Rauschenberg “combine” painting - the list just goes on and on and on up to Cindy Sherman, Philip Taaffe, Thomas Demand, Roxy Paine, Dana Schutz and Fred Tomaselli.


The university’s President, Jehuda Reinharz, and his board cite financial reverses experienced by the university as the reason for reaching such a drastic decision. Although Geoff Edgers at the Boston Globe (www.boston.com), and Randy Kennedy and Carol Vogel at the New York Times (www.nytimes.com), bloggers Tyler Green and Lee Rosenbaum (”Culture Grrll”) on www.artsjournal.com and Judith Dobrynski on Tina Brown’s www.thedailybeast.com have traced the numbers, which range from a deficit of $10 million to $79 million, something smells fishy to me. You don’t shutter a highly respected museum, sell off its collection - estimated to be worth in excess of $350 million - eliciting in the process a cacaphony of denunciation on the internet and blogosphere, and risk destroying the university’s good name,  for such a relatively small amount of money. Even in these recessionary times, when many of the wealthy are looking at drastically reduced portfolios, a $79 million deficit should be something that can be dealt with rationally. But Reinharz, who has a reputation for liking to live the good life, and his board are not acting rationally - they have reacted hysterically.


No, the rape of the Rose suggests that the $79 million is just the tip of the iceberg. Why am I suspicious?  Ever heard of Bernie Madoff? Well, Brandeis did. One of the university’s most generous donors, Carl and Ruth Shapiro, were among Madoff’s biggest dupes. They admit to losing close to $500 million from both their Foundation and their personal holdings. And they used their influence among the Jewish communities in Boston and Palm Beach to bring other victims to Madoff to feed his Ponzi scheme. Many of those investors were donors to Brandeis along with other charities, Jewish and secular. (The Shapiros were also major donors to Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and they were the biggest donors to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in its history.) Their daughter Rhonda Zinner is Brandeis’s Treasurer. Do you think she might have directed at least some of the university’s funds to the financial advisor who had - at least on paper - helped to make her parents and their friends so wealthy?


(Full disclosure time: I worked for Rhonda Zinner, then Rhonda Segal,  and her then-husband Thomas Segal, at the Thomas Segal Gallery in Boston for about 4 years in the late 1970s. At that time I met both Carl and Ruth Shapiro several times.)


You might not be able to tell from what I’ve written what a fury I am in about the disgraceful actions of Reinharz and the board. I am a Brandeis alum, class of ‘69, and the Rose Art Museum, then one of the few museums in the country devoted to contemporary art, was instumental in the development of my interest in art and my subsequent career as an art critic. The highlight of my 4 difficult years at Brandeis - being a college grad in 1969 on an activist campus was no lark - was the seminar on the New York School I took with the Rose’s director, William Seitz, who had been a legendary curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. To think that other students might not have the opportunity to discover the visual culture of their times at the campus museum makes me very very sad.


And angry.  I believe that Jehuda Reinharz should be fired by the board for his gross mismanagement of the university’s endowment. If John Thain can be fired for his incompetence at Merrill Lynch, then Reinharz should be too. And after he is fired, the board should then resign en masse. A board that would vote for such an action is not capable of being trustees of anything. And after the clearance of the greedy, self-serving and stupid crew that has come close to destroying what was once a great university, a new group  should be brought in to deal with the mess. Chastened, the university might do well to look back at the values of the visionary Jews who founded the university in 1948, a time when the fate of European Jewry was fresh in everyone’s minds, and to the example of Justice Louis Brandeis, after whom the university was named.


What’s happening at Brandeis is shameful. Not just because it shows a lack of appreciation for art and the role cultural expression has in the life of a liberal arts college, but because it reveals how low the university has sunk during the Reinharz regime and how vulgar its values are now. At the national level, this is a time for renewed hope; it looks as if Brandeis University is also in need of a deep cleansing and a rebirth. With the Rose Art Museum still there as one of its prime assets.


David Benotti

St. Louis, MO