Confusion and consternation ran through the Brandeis community and much of the art world in early 2009 as people wondered about the fate of the university's Rose Museum and its collection of contemporary art. On January 26th, Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz announced that the school's board of trustees had decided the university's budget crisis would force closing the Rose Museum and selling its collection.
The Rose Museum was located on the Brandeis campus in Waltham Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The museum specialized in collecting contemporary art and had built a collection of some 7,000 pieces valued at over $300 million. Brandeis, a relatively young university founded in 1948, was facing a budget crisis as the value of its endowment plunged and contributions dried up. Some saw selling the Rose collection as a sensible response to the crisis while others decried the deaccessioning.
However, less than two weeks later, President Reinharz said that the university's press release had been misleading. The university's board of trustees had merely asked that the Rose be better integrated into the Brandeis community. While pieces of the collection might be sold at some later date, Reinharz assured the community that no final decision had been made. The president's words did little to convince the supporters of the Rose who continued to rally to save the museum and its collection.
Whatever the fate of the Rose, Brandeis's initial announcement raised important questions about universities and their museums. Many institutions of higher learning sponsored art museums, some with substantial collections. (Yale, for example, operates two first class art museums.) What role should these museums play in university life? And when times got bad, should a university sell art works to save other programs? Should art be carried on the balance sheet like any other asset? Or were there special circumstances surrounding the stewardship of great art that set this particular asset apart?
And how should one go about valuing art? As university officials acknowledged, if Brandeis were to sell its collection, it would be entering a market where values had declined. How should the university go about deciding the value of its collection? In general, what kind of investment was art? While museums generally did not concern themselves with the appreciation of their collections, other art owners looked to the market as an investment vehicle. Was art a sensible investment? Could it be used to diversify a portfolio of more traditional investments?
Finally if Brandeis looked to sell its collection, what mechanisms should it use? Much art was sold at auction, with two auction houses, Christie's and Sotheby's, handling the bulk of the trade. How should one approach these two organizations? What was the nature of competition between Christie's and Sotheby's, and could a seller of art use this competition to their advantage? What did the auction houses look for in setting up an auction? Were there other mechanisms for selling art or otherwise benefiting from its value?
William N. Goetzmann and Jaan Elias, “Brandeis and the Rose Museum,” Yale SOM Case 09-021, July 29, 2009
- Higher Education
- Arts Management
- Asset Management
- Social Enterprise
- Sourcing/Managing Funds