Friday, January 30, 2009

Rose Art Museum Closing: Student Art Responses

I suppose all of us involved in the arts at Brandeis are still in a state of shock over the announced closing of the Rose Art Museum and the planned sale of its extraordinary collection of modern and contemporary art. There is much to say about this, but for the moment, I'd like to concentrate on how Brandeis students, especially those in the Cultural Production program, have been creatively responding to this crisis. Last night, graduate students and faculty in the program gathered for a "teach in" on the situation. We discussed, among other things, the fiscal calculations that apparently underlay the Board of Trustees' decision; the faculty resolution passed earlier that day calling for the Senate to set up committee to explore the future of the museum; how the decision is being discursively framed in various quarters; and what impact the Rose closing is likely to have on the professional plans of the Cultural Production students, many of whom are embarking on careers in museums and public art. There was some eloquent dismissal of the claim made by some (for instance on the general faculty ListServ) that the Rose, and art more broadly, are somehow distinct from the 'core mission' of a university. As my colleague Dirck Roosevelt put it (and here I paraphrase), so much of our lives, especially in this era, is banal and predictable; but art is anything but predictable; it disrupts, disturbs, compells us into directions we never would have expected. And a great museum of contemporary art such as the Rose does this in especially provocative and profound ways. In that sense, the Rose has been central to the real mission of this educational institution, to generate new ways of seeing the world and to disrupt conventional habits of thought.

To my mind, the most exciting and thought provoking parts of our discussion revolved around how students are themselves deploying art in response to the news, as a form of dissent and disquiet, and as celebrations of life and hope in the face of this cultural tragedy. Some of my colleagues wondered aloud: will protest-inspired art show up in unexpected places, in classrooms for instance? Will there be popular community theater responses or performance pieces, perhaps even coming into classroom sessions?

That afternoon, over 100 undergraduates and graduate students had gathered for a sit-in at the Rose, to make protest art and talk at the mic about their reactions. The protest is chronicled in an interesting YouTube video by CP student Brian Friedberg, who visually links the Rose sit-in to a recent protest march he attended in downtown Boston protesting the recent Israeli military actions in Gaza:

The Rose closing is also commented upon by video posts by CP student Sarah Stephenson
and undergraduate Emily Leifer, who like Brian are in my Museums and Public Memory class this semester. In turn, another grad student in the class, Noam, has suggested a YouTube challenge for video postings on Rose situation:

Claire Mauro and Brian Friedberg have made a striking collaborative YouTube video denouncing the "Looting of the Rose", sampling the Nuremberg Rally scene of The Lion King:

Tonight (Friday, January 30) from 6:00-8:00 p.m. the Cultural Production students are organizing an interesting art/protest happening in the Shapiro Campus Center, "ComeSeeArt". This event is described in the Boston online art journal Big, Red and Shiny at:

The happening will, I understand, include a really interesting work of projected art as well.

In her posting Emily touches on a theme that also occupied us during last night's teach in, a student plan next Thursday to hold some kind of funerary march through campus to mourn the passing of the Rose. Like a number of faculty and students, Emily is conflicted on this action. To what extent, some wonder, might a symbolic funeral march be read as acquiescing to the death of the museum? My own sense is that funerary symbolism is sufficiently complex that if handled right, such a march could be a powerful polyvalent form of signifying practice that would far transcend the limited frame of 'acceptance' or 'acquiescence.' Funeral marches after all move us into liminal space/time that is often enigmatically generative, allowing for subtle meta-commentaries on conventional categories of experience. I can't help but think of the famous case in April 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina, in which hundreds of newly liberated African-Americans marched in mourning attire through the city streets bearing an enormous coffin on which was written the word "Slavery." They weren't bewailing the passage of slavery of course; rather they needed to perform its death, on their own terms, to make it real and in effect free themselves from its continuing specter. To be sure, a symbolic funeral march for the Rose would be quite different, but the point is that one can't easily tell just how mortuary symbolism will play out in such performances.

But I'm very curious to hear others' thoughts on this, and eager to see how this and other artistic engagements with the crisis will develop.


Sue said...

News Alert: The Rose Art Museum



Edward & Bertha C. Rose Family Members
Meryl Rose, spokeswoman for the Rose family, Rose Museum board member and art collector

The Rose Art Museum


Rose Family Members To Make First Public Statement concerning the status of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University; Family To Deliver Statement to Brandeis

Scholars Come Together at Rose Art Museum to hold Symposium:

“Preserving Trust: Art and the Art Museum amidst Financial Crisis” featuring the following panelists:

Literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt
Poet Robert Pinski
Author Claire Messud
Anthropologist Dr. Mark Auslander

This event is free and open to the public


Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University Campus
415 South Street, Waltham, Massachusetts


Monday, March 16, 2009 at 6:30 p.m.

ABOUT THE ROSE FAMILY: More than 50 members of the Rose family have come together to condemn the actions of the current Brandeis administration in closing the Edward and Bertha C. Rose Art Museum and selling the art works in its renowned collection. A statement will be read at this event. A copy of the statement will be delivered to the office of the President of Brandeis University on Monday, March 16, 2009.

Copies of the statement will be available to the media at the event on Monday as well as via electronic distribution.


Preserving Trust: Art and the Art Museum amidst Financial Crisis
Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University Campus
415 South Street, Waltham, Massachusetts

Monday, March 16 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

An interdisciplinary symposium. Panelists include literary scholar Stephen Greenblatt, poet Robert Pinsky, and author Claire Messud. Moderator: Mark Auslander (Anthropology, Cultural Production, Brandeis University)

This symposium is prompted by the global controversy over the recently proposed closing of Brandeis University's Rose Art Museum and the selling of some or all of its permanent collection of modern and contemporary art, in order to meet general university financial needs. At a time of financial crisis, what is the utility of art and of museums, in universities and in other contexts? Is art the most dispensable and disposable of assets when times are tough? Conversely, might art and museums be understood as especially valuable at moments of economic and social distress, helping to remind a society of its core values, exposing citizens to cultural difference, and providing vital spaces for community-building and democratic debate?Panelists will give particular attention to the dynamics of "trust" and cultural heritage in the academy and the wider world. To what extent do institutions of higher education hold art and scientific collections as a "sacred trust" for the public? In what respects can and should public museums help build trust and community across the often fractious lines of the body politic? What new models of the museum and its position within universities and the wider social field should be explored in the 21st century?

Note: The proceedings will be streamed live on the Cultural Production ustream channel, and also posted on YouTube:



Stephen Greenblatt is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Founder of the “new historicism,” Greenblatt is a specialist in Shakespeare, sixteenth and seventeenth-century English literature, the literature of travel and exploration, and literary theory. Former president of the Modern Language Association, he is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin.

Greenblatt is the author and editor of numerous books, including Will in the World (2004; a New York Times Best Seller), Hamlet in Purgatory (2001), The Norton Anthology of English Literature (general editor, 2006), Practicing New Historicism (with Catherine Gallagher, 2000); Norton Shakespeare (general editor, 1997), New World Encounters (editor, 1993), Marvelous Possessions (1991), Learning to Curse (1990), Shakespearean Negotiations (1988; winner of the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize), and Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), among others; he is the founding editor of the journal Representations. Recipient of the Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award, his research has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim, Fulbright, the American Council of Learned Societies, and other funding agencies.


In 1997 Robert Pinsky was named the United States Poet Laureate and Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. He now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches in the graduate writing program at Boston University.

As Poet Laureate, Pinsky founded the Favorite Poem Project, in which thousands of Americans of varying backgrounds, all ages, and from every state share their favorite poems. Pinsky believed that, contrary to stereotype, poetry has a strong presence in the American culture. The project sought to document that presence, giving voice to the American audience for poetry.


Claire Messud (born 1966) is an American novelist. She is best-known as the author of the 2006 novel The Emperor's Children. Her debut novel, “When The World Was Steady” (1995), was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. In 1999, she published her second book, “The Last Life,” about three generations of a French-Algerian family. Her 2001 work, “ The Hunters,” consists of two novellas. Her most recent novel, “The Emperor’s Children,” was longlisted for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. She wrote the novel while a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study in 2004-2005.

Born in Toulon, France, Messud grew up in the United States, Australia and Canada, returning to the United States as a teenager. Messud's mother is Canadian, her father of French origin (from formerly-French Algeria). The writer was educated at Milton Academy, Yale University, and Cambridge, where she met her spouse, the British critic James Wood.


Dr. Mark Auslander is Director of the interdisciplinary Master's program in Cultural Production and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Brandeis University. He is a sociocultural anthropologist with strong interests in political and symbolic processes in Africa and the African Diaspora.

marry said...

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