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Rocked by a budget crisis, Brandeis University will close its Rose Art Museum and sell off a 6,000-object collection that includes work by such contemporary masters as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Nam June Paik.

The move shocked local arts leaders and drew harsh criticism from the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries. Rose Art Museum director Michael Rush declined comment this evening, saying he had just learned of the decision.

Brandeis is also discussing a range of sweeping proposals to bridge a budget deficit that could be as high as $10 million, such as reducing the size of the faculty by 10 percent, increasing undergraduate enrollment by 12 percent to boost tuition revenue, and overhauling the undergraduate curriculum by eliminating individual academic programs in favor of larger, interdisciplinary divisions.

Other plans under consideration include requiring students to take one summer semester, allowing the university to expand its student body without overcrowding, and adding a business program. The changes would take place, at the earliest, in 2010.

“This is not a happy day in the history of Brandeis,” President Jehuda Reinharz said tonight. “The Rose is a jewel. But for the most part it’s a hidden jewel. It does not have great foot traffic and most of the great works we have, we are just not able to exhibit. We felt that, at this point given the recession and the financial crisis, we had no choice.”

Brandeis said the museum would be closed late this summer. It was founded in 1961; a new wing designed by celebrated architect Graham Gund was added in 2001.

Announcement of the closing came as Rush was searching for a chief curator. A leading expert on video art, he had arrived in 2005 with plans to expand the museum. He also launched a full scale analysis of the museum’s value by Christie’s auction house. Dennis Nealon, the university’s director of public relations, would not say how much the collection is worth.

Experts on university art collections said the move was unusual, but not unexpected.

“Clearly, what’s happening with Brandeis now is that they decided the easiest way is to look around the campus and find things that can be capitalized,” said David Robertson, a Northwestern University professor who is president of the Association of College and Univertsity Museums and Galleries. “It’s always art that goes first.”

But there is no precedent for selling an art collection of the Rose’s stature. Internationally recognized, the collection is strong in American art of the 1960s and 1970s and includes works by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Morris Louis, and Helen Frankenthaler.

“I’m in shock,” said Mark Bessire, the recently named director of the Portland Museum Of Art. “And this is definitely not the time to be selling paintings, anyway. The market is dropping. I’m just kind of sitting here sweating because I can’t imagine Brandeis would take that step.”

Geoff Edgers and Peter Schworm
Boston Globe

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