Brandeis University to Close Art Museum, Sell Collection

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By Gillian Wee and Janet Frankston Lorin
Bloomberg
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brandeis University, anticipating a budget deficit of more than $10 million over five years, has voted to close its art museum and sell a collection that includes pieces by Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning.

The 49-year-old Rose Art Museum will close this year and seek buyers for about 6,000 pieces, said Dennis Nealon, a spokesman for the school. The collection was appraised at about $350 million in 2007 by the university, said Michael Rush, the museum's director.

The private school, based in Waltham, Mass., has suffered investment losses and spent other funds on a construction boom. Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz also said in a Jan. 7 letter that some "staunch and generous" donors were hurt by Bernard Madoff's alleged fraud.

"It's like a one-two-three punch: The economy tanks, they overbuilt at the peak of the market, and their largest donor was hit dramatically by the Madoff scandal," said Mark Williams, a Boston University senior lecturer who specializes in risk management and has studied Brandeis's finances.

Among Brandeis's largest donors are philanthropists Carl and Ruth Shapiro. Carl Shapiro and his family foundation had losses of $545 million in Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme, according to the Boston Globe.

Much of the art came from donations, and about 13,000 to 15,000 people visited the museum every year. The site of the 23,430-square-foot museum will be used for teaching, with studio space and an exhibition gallery, Nealon said.

Rush, the director, said he was caught by "total surprise" when he was told Monday of the decision to close the museum.

The museum's permanent collection is "particularly strong in American art of the 1960s and 1970s," including work by de Kooning, Warhol and Jasper Johns, according to the museum's Web site. The museum's current exhibition is "Saints and Sinners," a contemporary show with work by Wassily Kandinsky and Liam Gillick.

Founded in 1948, the school has more than 3,200 undergraduates.

The university's endowment has fallen "markedly," in line with what other schools have reported, Nealon said. North American college endowments declined an average of 22.5 percent from July to November, according to a study released by Commonfund and the National Association of College and University Business Officers, based in Washington.

Brandeis is considering cutting 10 percent of its 360 faculty members and adding summer classes with hopes of increasing enrollment, Nealon said.

Brandeis faces an art market in which demand and prices are under pressure. Art auction houses, including industry leaders Christie's International and Sotheby's, have missed estimates in the past three months as the global credit crisis and falling stock markets curbed buyers' interest.

"Market conditions will be looked at as this plan proceeds," Nealon said. "Obviously we want to put the university in the best position."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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