The issues surrounding Brandeis Univerity’s decision to close the Rose Museum are complex. The more we learn, the more we discover the complicated knot of forces that led to the university’s very risky decision. For the art world, however, the decision seems to be viewed as an attack on the idea and value of art. Roberta Smith’s essay in today’s New York Times is the best example:
It is hard to know how anyone could destroy this museum, but that’s what Brandeis announced it would do last Monday. It’s hard to think of a comparably destructive — and self-destructive — move in the art world today. [ . . . ]
And now the trustees have stepped in and said, in effect, “Thank you very much for your dedication, generosity and sacrifice, but this jewel is ours to dispose of as we please.”
But the greater the art, the greater number of people “own” it. The greater its power, the more it expands our lives. In a just and moral society, art is crucial to our understanding of freedom, difference and individual agency.
The message out of Brandeis University last week — to its own students and to the world — was that when the going gets tough, none of this matters. Art is dispensable.
It’s hard to argue with this position. The destruction of the Rose Museum is a terrible act. What seems to amplify the problem is the very success of art in recent years in market terms. Without a market value, the museum would not be a container of assets the university might view as, well, assets.
The question is whether art can have great cultural value without having market value. It’s a question that lies beyond our capacity to answer. But nonetheless remains at the heart of the battle over deaccessioning, the art market and, now, the destruction of the Rose Museum.
In the Closing of Brandeis Museum, a Stark Statement of Priorities (New York Times)