Felix Salmon is a financial blogger with an aversion to viewing art as an asset. He’s been sifting through the Rose controversy looking for a plausible explanation. Here’s what he thinks is happening:
Weirdly, neither French nor Reinharz felt the need to explain why they were closing the museum: maybe they thought it was obvious. And no one asked them, either. But whenever journalists have asked the question, the answer has been the same: basically, it’s really difficult to sell art out of a museum, so if we’re going to be selling art, we’re going to have to close the museum first. [ . . . ]
I do still think that closing the museum is a way of getting around deaccessioning rules. But there’s something else going on here as well: if a painting is part of a museum, it has obvious cultural value. If the museum has been closed and the painting is in storage, then just about any fate for that painting becomes preferable to the status quo.
The Rose’s collection is marked on the Brandeis endowment’s books at $1 per artwork. Right now, when the works are exhibited in a first-rate museum, it’s clear that their value is much higher than that. But if the museum closes and they’re crated up and stored, then suddenly the optics change. Which of these two propositions would you rather put to trustees?
- “We have a priceless artwork which is a central part of a highly-respected museum. Would you mind if we sold it off to raise some money?”
- “We have a priceless artwork sitting in storage and doing no good to anybody. Would you mind if we sold it off to raise some money?”
To put it another way: those artworks which Brandeis wishes to sell, it first puts in storage. It’s a nasty and dishonest ploy on both an intellectual and an ethical level. And Brandeis shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
Why Brandeis is Closing the Rose Art Museum (Market Movers/Portfolio.com)