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Artnet News
Jan. 27, 2009 

Art lovers and professionals alike were stunned by the news that Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., was set to shutter its Rose Art Museum by the end of summer 2009, with plans to liquidate the entirety of its 6,000-piece collection. The decision was made unilaterally by the university board of trustees, and announced with no warning -- not even Michael Rush, the Rose’s director, was briefed in advance. "I’m in shock," Rush wrote Artnet Magazine. "We didn’t know anything about this."

The reaction so far is anger, to say the least. The head of the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries announced that the sell-off "puts all of our roles at our institutions in jeopardy," referring to college gallery directors who depend on the largesse and good will of private donors. The Rose has been built primarily through gifts. As recently as March 2008, it was touting donations from illustrious patrons valued at $2 million, including works by Marcel Dzama, Mike Kelley, Robert Motherwell, Vic Muniz, James Rosenquist, Joel Shapiro and Jessica Stockholder.

On campus, meanwhile, an editorial in the Justice, a student paper, compared the decision to "a junkie pawning his wedding ring," and called for students to "fight back." A student sit-in is already planned at the Rose for Thursday at 1 p.m. Such turmoil is likely to make any auction house nervous about taking on the sale. Public outcry caused a headache for Christie’s when Virginia’s Randolph College decided to use the New York auctioneer to deaccession some major works from the Maier Museum; in that scandal, too, the university employed heavy-handed tactics to avoid consulting with faculty, students and museum staff. Those sales were modest compared to the wholesale liquidation proposed by Brandeis.

Founded in 1961, the Rose is the source of considerable pride on campus. It contains notable works by Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Morris Louis, among others. Among the pieces that might be particularly coveted by the art market, according to those familiar with the collection, are Robert Raushenberg’s Second Time Painting, and Andy Warhol’s early-career Saturday Disaster. Brandeis said that it plans to replace the museum with a "fine arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery." University reps said that an unnamed "major art dealer" would oversee the fire sale from the school’s end.

Brandeis has said that it faces an annual budget shortfall of $10 million, and has already proposed slashing staff and increasing enrollment (great combination, that!), as well as other exotic endeavors like moving from individual majors to a system of "meta-majors." More important, perhaps, is the role that the Bernard Madoff swindle may be playing in Brandeis’ radical move. The largest patrons to the university were Carl and Ruth Shapiro, key figures in the Madoff scam, whose foundation has lost big [see Artnet News, Dec. 16, 2008]. The Shapiros are notable museum supporters; one unconfirmed report has the museum holding many works from the Shapiros as "promised gifts."  

One auction-house insider contacted by Artnet Magazine noted that just one of the better works from the Rose collection might fill the $10-million budget gap, adding, "There must be a bigger picture there" -- a sentiment shared by many. While Brandeis has an immediate funding short-fall, and is looking for gap-fillers to get it through the recession, officials note that the process of selling the art "could take up to about a couple of years, minimum." There is no precedent for selling off a university collection of this size.

After premiering on the West Coast and touring London and Japan, "The Vader Project" -- yes, that’s Darth Vader from the Star Wars films -- makes its East Coast debut at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, Feb. 28-May 3, 2009. The show features 100 works made by contemporary "Pop Surrealist" artists directly on 1:1 scale prop replicas of the Darth Vader helmet used in Star Wars. Participating artists include Attaboy, Gary Baseman, Tim Biskup, Mister Cartoon, Dalek, Marc Ecko, Ron English, Paul Frank, Frank Kozik, Peter Kuper, Wade Lageose, Joe Ledbetter, Alex Pardee, Shag, Jeff Soto, Suckadelic, Sunich, Cameron Tiede, Michelle Valigura, Amanda Visell and others. The show is organized by Dov Kelemer and Sarah Jo Marks of the art-toy distributor DKE Toys.  

An "antique firm in the NY area" -- that’s all we know -- was taken in by a spoof posting on Craigslist, purporting to be the office furnishings of disgraced Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, who was recently fired amid the scandal that he embarked on a $1.22 million redecoration of his office by "celebrity designer" Michael Smith, even as Merrill Lynch lost billions last year. To be fair, the items in the joke posting -- including "antique area rug, has some spots that are worn down from pacing but easily covered with other furniture $87 K" and "George IV Desk, rarely used $18 K" -- are only marginally more outrageous than the $85,000 Persian rug or $1,400 garbage bin that Thain actually bought.

The jokester, known as Helena Handbasket, forwarded an email she received to a writer at "Could you provide pictures or more details on the area rug?" it reads, purporting to be from a "collector and lead buyer for a [sic] antique firm." "Pictures or some history would be ideal. If that doesn't work when would be an appropriate time to look at the merchandise? Salutations."

The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art has issued a list of its top 10 acquisitions for 2008. The works include Louise Bourgeois’ six-foot-tall black marble sculpture of a headless four-legged creature with female breasts, The She-Fox (1985), the first work by the artist in the museum collection, a gift of Camille Oliver-Hoffmann; an untitled concrete-filled chest from 2008 by Doris Salcedo; plus works by Olafur Eliasson, Liam Gillick, Joseph Grigely, Manon de Boer, Kota Ezawa, Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Sharon Lockhart and Sam Durant

The Cuban-born New York fashion designer Isabel Toledo has made style-section headlines in the last week thanks to Michele Obama, who wore Toledo’s gold brocade outfit to the Presidential Inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009. Long considered a "designer’s designer," Toledo gets wider exposure next summer at the FIT Museum in New York. "Isabel Toledo: Fashion from the Inside Out," June 16-Sept. 26, 2009, explores the ways that the designer collaborates with her husband, the illustrator Ruben Toledo, to arrive at designs that are notably experimental in pattern, silhouette, materials and methods of draping. The show is organized by Museum at FIT director Valerie Steel and deputy director Patricia Mears with Ruben and Isabel Toledo.

New York installation artist Devon Dikeou is bringing a conceptual-art perspective to the storied romance between Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe in her exhibition at the Galleries at Moore at the Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. "Marilyn Monroe Wanted to Be Buried in Pucci," Jan. 30-Mar. 14, 2009, features 36 watercolors based on the Pucci design, five photographs of a flag at half mast, shot in 1999 when DiMaggio died, and an urn containing six red roses. Dikeou is having fresh roses sent to the galleries three times a week during the run of the exhibition, just as DiMaggio had roses delivered to Monroe's grave long after the couple parted. What’s more, the show features a replica of the platinum ring that DiMaggio gave to Monroe (courtesy of Tiffany & Co., the maker of the original), which visitors can try on.

Some galleries are expanding, despite the recession. Wallspace, the gallery opened in 2004 by Janine Foeller and Jane Hait, and resident at 619 West 27th Street, is expanding into the space next door, which was previously occupied by Bill Brady’s ATM Gallery, which is itself moving to a larger, adjacent space. Wallspace unveils its new gallery with an exhibition by Walead Beshty in late February; in the meantime, the gallery is closed for renovation.

Quality Pictures, the Portland (Ore.) art gallery directed by Erik Schneider, has closed after two years. The gallery, which was considered a real asset to the local art scene, exhibited works by Roger Ballen, Oliver Boberg, Bryan Schellinger and Angela West, among other artists. The closing results from financial difficulties, according to D.K Row’s visual arts blog on the Oregonian.

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Conn., presents its 15th annual "Larry Award" to New York artist Christian Marclay at a ceremony in New York City on Feb. 2, 2009. The artist receives a $50,000 prize and the opportunity for an exhibition at the museum.

Artist Andrew Witkin has won the 2008 Foster Prize, a $25,000 award from the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. Foster’s work, along with that of three other finalists (Catherine D'Ignazio, Rania Matar and Joe Zane) remains on view in an exhibition at the ICA through Feb. 14, 2009.

Spanish sculptor Angel Orensanz, who operates the Orensanz Foundation in a converted synagogue on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, has won the "New Art Horizons" award at the Sundance Festival in Park City, Utah, for his short film The Snows of the World. Photographed in Paris, Moscow, New York and Park City, the movie depicts the artist drawing in the snow with a small snow plow.

Vesela Sretenovic
, curator at the Bell Gallery at Brown University in Providence, R.I., has been appointed curator for modern and contemporary art at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., a new position. In Providence, Sretenovic organized exhibitions of Charles Long, Joseph Beuys and Sean Scully; her assignment in Washington, D.C., is to "reinvigorate the Phillips’ legacy as a place for conversation, experimentation and dialogue." Currently on view at the Phillips is an exhibition of "The Eight," and a show of Giorgio Morandi still-lifes scheduled to open in February 2009.

Phillips Collection director Dorothy M. Kosinski, who came on board a little more than a year ago, also announced gifts totaling $23.5 million to the endowment campaign, which has a goal of $50 million by 2010. The endowment currently totals nearly $38 million.

JOHN UPDIKE, 1932-2009
John Updike, 76, the prize-winning author who died of lung cancer on Jan. 27, was not only a prolific novelist but also a first-rate art critic. Among his virtues were the extreme intimacy with which he encountered every artwork, and his desire to reinterpret the history of American art from a distinctly narrative point of view. He did the latter backwards, finding, for example, elements of Abstract-Expressionism in Arthur Dove and John Marin. For Updike, particularly in the work of his favorite painter Edward Hopper, every painting was a mystery to be unlocked, a puzzle to be solved. Though his prose could be dense, it was often beautiful, and the zeal with which he approached a museum gallery annihilated a certain fuddy-duddiness which he perhaps felt legitimated his presence as an amateur in the hothouse of esthetes. Personally misanthropic in the New England tradition, his heart opened wide in the presence of the great masterpieces of our complex country. He truly believed, with William Faulkner, that "the past is not dead, it isn't even past."

-- Charlie Finch

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