Posted on 26 June 2012 | By Francine Koslow Miller
Scholar and art critic, Francine Koslow Miller, Ph.D., has recently completed a book, Cashing in on Culture: Betraying the Trust at the Rose Art Museum (Hol Art Books, Tucson, Arizona, 2012) investigating the chain of events that led to Brandeis University’s decision to sell off significant portions of its art collection in order to raise funds for general operations at the school. This scathing and detailed investigation reveals the motives, politics and deceptions that accompanied this effort, begun several years age. National headlines, legal challenges and local uproar—by benefactors, alumni and students—were only a small part of the groundswell reaction to the university’s decision. Here, in excerpt form, is one complete chapter in the fascinating chronicle of events surrounding this unusual and audacious act to dismantle one of the most cherished and valued parts of the Waltham, Massachusetts community. artes fine arts magazine
President Jehuda Reinharz and the Board of Trustees at Brandeis underestimated the amount of heated backlash that would follow their hasty announcement that they were shutting the Rose and selling off its art. Students and faculty protested and loud condemnation erupted across the local, national and international art world. Reinharz had inadvertently put Brandeis University at the center of a global press campaign against the closing of the Rose Art Museum.
Rose donor Gerald S. Fineberg was with his wife Sandra in Palm Beach when he first learned about Reinharz’s plan to cash in on the Rose Art Museum’s art collection. The museum patron, whose name appeared on a small plaque in the upper level of the Rose, told a local newspaper reporter that he was “shocked, stunned, and disappointed.”  Fineberg was justifiably concerned that his gift of $2.5 million for renovations to the museum would not be realized.
Appearing on the front page of the January 27, 2009, edition of the Boston Globe, was Geoff Edgers and Peter Schworm’s comprehensive story “Brandeis to Sell School’s Art Collection”, in which they reported that Brandeis’s budget deficit could be as high as $10 million, and that other proposals to bail out the university included “reducing the size of the faculty by ten percent, increasing undergraduate enrollment by twelve percent, and eliminating certain individual academic programs.”  Nonetheless, Reinharz added that his decision to shut the Rose was partially based on poor attendance:
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. 
The reporters also quoted David Robertson, president of the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries (now the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries [AAMG]), stating:
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. It’s always art that goes first. 
Included in this early coverage of the Rose situation was the announcement that director Michael Rush had recently entered into an arrangement with Christie’s for “a full scale analysis of the museum’s value.”  Inadvertently, by drawing notice to the considerable monetary value of the Rose collection, it seems Rush brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees and the president of Brandeis what appeared to be an easily unlocked treasure chest.
Media coverage of the Rose situation quickly expanded nationwide in articles and blog posts condemning Reinharz’s methods and objectives. Randy Kennedy and Carol Vogel of the New York Times (in an article entitled “Outcry Over a Plan to Sell Museum Holdings”) had, in just one day, gathered reactions from such art world luminaries as curator and dean of the Yale School of Art, Robert Storr, and artist Jasper Johns. “It couldn’t be a worse time to sell expensive art,” said Storr. “It is not only unprincipled, but bad economics.”  He added,
This sets a terrible precedent. The Rose Art Museum has been known for four decades as a hospitable place to show serious and challenging art in an academic context. They are throwing away one of their prime assets. 
Johns said, when notified of the closing of the Rose, “I find it astonishing; I’ve never heard anything like it.”  “It’s such bad timing for this,” added painter James Rosenquist, “They must be really hurting.” 
Early on, Kennedy and Vogel estimated the lofty monetary value of some highlights of the Rose collection in their New York Times article:
Among its masterpieces is Warhol’s Saturday Disaster, from the artist’s car-crash series, this one from 1963–64, a work that experts believe is worth around $30 million. It was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s Warhol retrospective in 1989 in New York.
Second Time Painting, a work by Rauschenberg that was included in a show of his combines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2005, could fetch $12 million to $15 million, experts said. Dealers in postwar art said that Mr. Johns’ 1957 painting could potentially bring $15 million to $20 million. 
Kennedy and Vogel reported that the legalities of selling the collection were already being questioned.  Emily LaGrassa, director of communications for Massachusetts attorney general Martha Coakley, said that Brandeis had informed their office on Monday January 27, 2009, of its plans, but had not consulted with them in advance. The attorney general has approval powers over certain actions of nonprofit institutions in the state. Ms. LaGrassa said that in the case of Brandeis, they would review wills and agreements made between the museum and the estates of donors to determine if selling artworks violated the terms of the donations. 
Critic Lindsay Pollock (now editor-in-chief of Art in America) after quoting director Michael Rush comparing the Rose sale to “a death,”  also quoted LaGrassa in her analysis in Bloomberg.com of the significance of investigating donor restrictions:
If there were no restrictions, the university is free to sell the art … “If restrictions were attached, Brandeis must ask living donors for permission to sell or go to court if a donor is deceased”, she [LaGrassa] said. 
“About eighty-five percent of the collection was donated, so the process will be lengthy,”  LaGrassa warned. It is the Gervitz-Mnuchin collection that stands to bring in the majority of the oft-quoted $350 million auction price for the Rose collection—even at a low point in the market. According to Pollock, “The bulk of the collection’s value stems from the purchase of twenty-one works in 1963 with a $50,000 gift from the New York lawyer and collector Leon Mnuchin and his wife Harriet Gervitz-Mnuchin.”  Pollock quoted Sam Hunter on January 29, 2009, stating, “I am saddened and offended that they want to sell the paintings … it’s very low thinking.”  Pollock advised that it would be unwise to sell off such a valuable collection explaining, “Art experts argue that the collection is too valuable to flood the market when prices have taken a dive.”  She pointed out that according to dealers, Lichtenstein’s Forget It! Forget Me!, “is itself worth round $35 million.” 
Two days after the announcement of the intended sale of the Rose art collection, Robert Mnuchin, son of now deceased Leon and Harriet Gervitz Mnuchin, told reporters from the New York Times that he was unaware of Brandeis’s plans until he read about them. Surprisingly, instead of trying to protect his parents’ legacy and keep the art at the Rose, Mnuchin—who runs the Manhattan gallery L&M Arts—expressed his desire to profit from their sale, stating, “Obviously as a dealer I’d like to be involved either in buying them or selling them.”  Mnuchin’s words did not convey a recognition that his parents had given their funding explicitly to purchase treasures meant to remain at the Rose Art Museum.
Robert Mnuchin, a razor-sharp veteran businessman, is regularly seen at major art fairs either making deals on his omnipresent cell phone or vaunting works by Warhol, Johns, Rosenquist and other blue-chip artists to prospective clients. In a feature article from August 1, 2008, in ARTINFO.com that included a conversation with Robert Mnuchin, writer Sara Douglas noted, “Mnuchin draw parallels between equities trading and art dealing.”  Prior to 1990, Robert Mnuchin was a partner and the head of equity trading at Goldman Sachs and, during part of that time, he served as a director of the American Stock Exchange and as chairman of the Upstairs Trading Committee of the New York Stock Exchange. After more than thirty years, Mnuchin left Wall Street to partner with art dealer James Corcoran in C&M Arts on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The space was renamed L&M Arts in 2005, when private dealer Dominique Levy, former director of private sales at Christie’s New York, replaced Corcoran. There, Mnuchin and Levy deal in top-tier postwar artwork in exhibitions marrying loans from institutions and private collections with choice works for sale. According to ArtReview.com’s “2010 Power 100”—which is meant as a guide to the general trends, networks and forces that shape the art world— Levy and Mnuchin, as rulers of the New York secondary market, are known to propel some of the biggest deals in United States’ auctions. 
As talk of sales of the Rose collection increased within the art world, director Michael Rush forcefully emphasized that the museum was financially autonomous from Brandeis and was not, itself, in any fiscal trouble. Rush had been informed of the Trustees’ decision one hour before its announcement to the press on January 26, 2009. He made it his priority in a January 28 online interview with art journalist Tyler Green for his popular blog Modern Art Notes to stress that “This is all about selling the artwork,”  and that what was happening at the Rose had nothing to do with the museum and everything to do with Brandeis. Rush explained:
The Rose is not in financial trouble. We’re secure. I can’t say that strongly enough. We’re meeting our fundraising goals. We’re doing fine. We have a tight managerial structure. We’re utterly responsible. There’s no trouble for the Rose.
Rush told Green that it was untrue when the university gave the impression that shuttering the Rose would save Brandeis money.
They’re just selling the artwork. The university doesn’t give us a penny. We are financially autonomous within the university. They don’t pay our salaries or anything, just below-the-line costs like the heat and the lights. That’s not going to change if they get rid of us—they’re going to use the building for something else, and they’ll have those same costs. 
Green noted that Rush had previously told him that the Rose, “had an endowment that, at its peak was at $20 million and that it’s down about twenty-five percent because of the recent market drop.”  He made the critical point that the Rose’s donors gave that money to the Rose, not to Brandeis and asked Rush the big question, “If Brandeis closes the Rose, does Brandeis essentially ‘steal’ that money?” Rush carefully avoided any references to robbing from the Rose. Instead, he explained what closing the Rose and selling of the art from the Rose would entail. Rush said that if the Rose were closed, then the university would take it over, but it would be a complicated and lengthy process. Substantial examination of endowments would have to be considered, including one from the Fosters that is restricted to the director’s salary and another that is intended only for the maintenance of the Foster Wing. “Our biggest endowments,” he explained “are restricted to acquisitions, that can only be used for the purchase of art.” 
Renowned art critic Roberta Smith, in an article for the New York Times titled “In Closing of Brandeis Museum, A Stark Statement of Priorities”, wrote that the Brandeis vote was “an act of breathtaking stealth and presumption”  —a raid on a museum that supports itself, raises its own funds, and has consistently planned wisely for its own future without leaning on the university. The Trustees, she explained, have treated it nevertheless as a disposable asset. Reporting that a collective tremor could already be felt at university museums around the country, Smith claimed that Brandeis could set a dangerous precedent. She described how indignant collectors were demanding that the Rose return donated gifts of art and that prospective donors would be changing their wills. Smith further condemned the Brandeis administration by commenting, “It’s hard to think of a comparably destructive—and self-destructive—move in the art world today.” 
Among the most vehement posted criticisms of Reinharz’s January 26 announcement was by artist and former Rose preparator Roger Kizik. He distributed to a large email audience a message that he had originally sent to president Reinharz on January 29. In it, Kizik claimed that he was stunned at the “panicked irrational expediency of the ‘solution’ which would effectively terminate the Rose as we know it.”  Kizik further lambasted Reinharz for excluding the current Rose director from the meeting deciding the museum’s fate, which he described as “Kafka-esque—like having a trial without a defendant.” 
Aside from being concerned about the sell-off of the Gervitz-Mnuchin collection, many regional artists worried about what would become of works that they had sold to the Rose at wholesale prices, believing that their art would remain there in perpetuity. Cambridge-based artist Dan Ranalli, whose wife Tabitha Vevers had also given work to the Rose, was infuriated at the possibility of having his art sold to bolster Brandeis’s general funds. Ranalli wrote, “Having that work sold off now to go to the university’s general coffers feels like an act of treachery.”  New York and Boston-based artist and critic Susan Schwalb expressed concern about the majority of the collection that would not bring in much cash. She wrote:
Brandeis will only see serious monies from a small part of the collection. What will happen to the bulk of the artwork that doesn’t sell for millions of dollars? 
Schwalb (whose husband Martin Boykan had held the Irving G. Fine Chair of Composition in the music department at Brandeis until retiring in summer 2009) said that the Rose closing was symptomatic of Brandeis’s current administration’s general disregard for the arts. She circulated an email containing an inflammatory assessment of the university:
What Brandeis wants now is a business school; art is seen as fluff. My husband, who has first hand experience as a Brandeis professor, has been discussing Brandeis’s hostility to the serious arts for some years now. Brandeis is using the current economic situation to get rid of the arts. 
On January 28, 2009, National Public Radio (NPR) host Robert Siegel interviewed Jehuda Reinharz in his Brandeis office, and discussed his decision to close the Rose Museum and sell off much of the collection. The interview, which was aired that same day on Siegel’s “All Things Considered,” opened with the Brandeis president explaining that the Board of Trustees did not mandate how much art to sell or when to sell it. After stating that Brandeis was in a financial hole from which it would not recover for at least four or five years due to a twenty-five percent loss in its endowments, Reinharz reiterated his commitment to providing financial assistance to students whose families may no longer be able to pay full tuition. When asked by Siegel whether he had any conversations with people who had donated works to the Rose, Reinharz claimed that he had received a call from a dealer who had given an appraised “seven-figure painting to the Rose”— a Warhol. According to Reinharz:
He said to me, “If you have to sell it, sell it. It’s more important to keep the first-rate faculty intact. It’s more important to give scholarships to students than to keep this work of art, as great as it is.” 
Reinharz neither identified the dealer nor did he mention any of the irate emails or calls from angry patrons he was surely getting. As a follow-up to Reinharz’s interview on NPR, Allen Alter, president of the Brandeis Alumni Association (and senior coordinating producer of CBS News, New York) sent a letter to his fellow alumni on January 29, 2009. In what he described as an effort to share some perspective, Alter, who has a seat on the university’s Board of Trustees, once again emphasized the need to provide students with financial aid. Additionally, Alter described the proposed conversion of the Rose into studio teaching space for its fine arts faculty and gallery space for student and faculty work, and alluded to the probable sell-off of pieces from the Rose collection:
As for the Rose, the museum building will be converted to much-needed arts teaching and gallery space for Brandeis students and faculty. Through an orderly process that might take years, pieces of the collection might be sold. The university is well aware of market conditions and is not planning a sudden and drastic sale of the artwork, but rather a cautious approach with an eye towards the future. 
Even while Alter worked to bolster the university’s decision behind a united front, Boston-based art journalist Ellen Howards called into question the very unanimity underlying the original announcement:
Though the vote was termed unanimous, Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon said that “most” board members were present at the meeting. Sources close to a few Board members say that of the forty-five members, twenty were present to vote, and ten voted by telephone. Fifteen were neither present nor informed of the agenda, and did not vote. They were notified after the fact. Whether it was Reinharz or certain Board members who pushed for the museum’s closure remains unclear. 
The week following the announcement of the Rose’s closing witnessed a great upset among members of the Brandeis community. By week’s end, an online petition sponsored by Concerned Brandeis Alumni called “In Opposition to the Closing of the Rose” had already been signed by 4,183 people; the organizers’ plan had been to collect 1,000 signatures and comments. The late Mitchell Siporin’s daughter Rachel Siporin, a painter and professor of art at Central Connecticut State University, added the following comments to the petition:
As an alumna, and as an artist, I am horrified by what this decision says with respect to the university’s understanding of and commitment to the creative arts. I realize, as we all do, that the university is in financial crisis. However, art is not purely a commodity to be bought and sold. It represents visual ideas and its cavalier sale cannot be treated as a massive sell off on Wall Street. In addition, this strikes me as a huge blunder on the part of the university, a giant public relations nightmare with respect to university benefactors and donors. 
Concerned undergraduates at Brandeis were dismayed by what they perceived as the Board of Trustees’ blatant lack of consideration for the thoughts and opinions of the broader Brandeis population. Some two-hundred Brandeis students staged a sit-in in and around the Rose Art Museum on January 28, at which time several undergraduates voiced their opinions about how important the Rose was to the entire Brandeis community. A junior, majoring in studio art, expressed his feelings that since the announcement to shut down the Rose, he no longer felt that Brandeis was a complete university. Michael Rush, addressing the students’ concerns, told them that Reinharz’s decision to shut the Rose and sell off its art was going to have major historical ramifications for Brandeis. After describing the Rose as the most significant modern and contemporary art center in the region, Rush sadly announced, “The Rose as we know it is over. No one will lend to us, give money or curate here. History has been made.”  Although he at first appeared to be pessimistic about the Rose’s future, Rush concluded by rallying Brandeis students to “Stop the Secrecy! Stop the manipulation. Fight on kids.” 
By January 29, 2009, a group of students organized a “Save the Rose” campaign and launched a website called savetherose.org.  The initial message on the site, which also sold “Save the Rose” T-shirts, read:
Administrators have recently proposed closing the Rose Art Museum on campus and pawning off all of our priceless art collection. These incredible masterpieces include Picassos, Cézannes, and invaluable works of modern art. Not only should the Brandeis Community not consider selling its soul, but it’s economically the absolute worst time to sell art. To keep our university afloat there are many other options to consider. Let this not be one.
Reinharz’s letter implies that this decision was unanimous, but this simply isn’t true. Any community member, who has walked through the galleries of the Rose, knows of the excellence it brings to Brandeis as a liberal-arts institution. Those passionate about the arts, from students to faculty to staff, from education departments to fine arts to psychology, know the value that this museum has brought to our educations. Please join us in protesting this rash decision, and help overturn it before we are left with a pit where our art museum used to be. We will come together as appreciators of art to stop this mistake before it’s made.
Please join in solidarity, and invite everyone you know.
Together, we’ll change this! 
On Thursday night, January 29, a Brandeis student group, Art Attack, dressed in black, led a “funeral procession” across campus and headed to the Rose. On Friday January 30, students, using projected art and reproduced imagery from the Rose’s collection and footage from recent student protests, hosted “COMESEEART—A Collection-based Exhibit and Conversation” in Brandeis’s Shapiro Student Center. These young students were determined to draw attention to the importance of the Rose collection and to force the administration to reverse its plans to destroy their art museum.
-End of Chapter 2-
By Francine Koslow Miller, Ph.D.
Cashing in on Culture: Betraying the Trust at the Rose Art Museum
By Francine Koslow Miller, Ph.D.
Thanks to publisher, Greg Albers, and Hol Art Books for their permission and support in presenting this material on the ‘pages’ of ARTES magazine.
Available through Amazon in paperback or on Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/Cashing-Culture-Betraying-Trust-Museum/dp/1936102277/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1340740849&sr=1-1&keywords=cashing+in+on+culture
or at www.holartbooks.com
1. Gerald Fineberg quoted in Jan Sjostrom, “Rose Art Museum Closing Disappoints Palm Beach Donors”, Palm Beach Daily News, January 28, 2009.
2. Geoff Edgers and Peter Schworm, “Brandeis to Sell School’s Art Collection”, The Boston Globe, January 27, 2009.
3. Jehuda Reinharz, quoted in Ibid.
4. David Robertson, quoted in Ibid.
5. Edgers and Schworm, Ibid.
6. Robert Storr, quoted in Randy Kennedy and Carol Vogel, “Outcry over a Plan to Sell Museum’s Holdings”, The New York Times, January 27, 2009.
8. Jasper Johns, quoted in Ibid.
9. James Rosenquist, quoted in Lindsay Pollock, “Critics Blast Brandeis Plan to Close Rose Museum, Sell Artworks”, Bloomberg.com, January 29, 2009, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=aIfGyx5suFoc.
10. Kennedy and Vogel, “Outcry over a Plan”.
12. Emily LaGrassa, quoted in Ibid.
13. Michael Rush, quoted in Pollock, “Critics Blast Brandeis”.
14. Emily LaGrassa, quoted in Ibid.
16. Pollock, “Critics Blast Brandeis”.
17. Sam Hunter quoted in Pollock, “Critics Blast Brandeis”.
18. Pollock, “Critics Blast Brandeis”.
20. Robert Mnuchin, quoted in Kennedy and Vogel, “Outcry over a Plan”.
21. Sara Douglas, “The Wise Men: Robert Mnuchin”, Art and Auction, ARTINFO.com, August 1, 2008, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/28113/robert-mnuchin.
22. This information comes from the “Art Review: The 2010 Power 100”, ArtReview.com, October 2010, http://www.artreview100.com/. Mnuchin and Levy were number twenty on the list of 100 power people in the arts.
23. Michael Rush, quoted in Tyler Green, “Q & A with Michael Rush”, Modern Art Notes, ARTINFO.com, January 30, 2009, http://blogs.artinfo.com/modernartnotes/2009/01.
25. Green, “Q & A with Michael Rush”.
26. Michael Rush, quoted in Ibid.
27. Roberta Smith, “In Closing of Brandeis Museum, A Stark Statement of Priorities”, The New York Times, February 1, 2009.
29. Roger Kizik, email to Jehuda Reinharz, January 29, 2009.
31. Dan Ranalli, email to the author, January 28, 2009.
32. Susan Schwalb, email to the author, January 26, 2009.
34. Jehuda Reinharz, in Robert Siegel “Brandeis President Defends Art Museum Sale”, All Things Considered, NPR Radio, January 28, 2009.
35. Alan Alter, letter to Brandeis alumni, January 29, 2009.
36. Ellen Howards, “Cutting off the Rose: Brandeis Not Smelling So Sweet”, Art New England, April/May 2009, vol. 30, no. 3, 10.
37. Rachel Siporin, personal statement added online to, Petition in Opposition to Closing the Rose Art Museum, January 28, 2009.
38. Michael Rush, in “Rose Art Museum Sit-In 2”, January 28, 2009, video posted by Brandeis University’s Cultural Production Program, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZUn2dOMsz0k.
40. As of January 2011, the website www.savetherose.org ceased to exist. In its place is a Facebook page called “Save the Rose Art Museum”. By September 20, 2011, the site boasted in upper case letters, “WE SAVED THE ROSE”.
41. www.savetherose.org, January 30, 2009.