ARTnewsletter Archive

Judge Says Suit Against Brandeis Over Artwork Sales Can Proceed

On Oct. 13, Suffolk County, Mass., probate court judge Jeremy Stahlin denied a motion by Brandeis University to dismiss a suit filed by Rose Art Museum benefactors Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee and Lois Foster intending to stop the school from closing the museum and selling artwork.

NEW YORK—On Oct. 13, Suffolk County, Mass., probate court judge Jeremy Stahlin denied a motion by Brandeis University to dismiss a suit filed by Rose Art Museum benefactors Meryl Rose, Jonathan Lee and Lois Foster intending to stop the school from closing the museum and selling artwork. At the hearing, the university agreed it would not sell any of the artwork donated by the plaintiffs, said Brandeis attorney Thomas Reilly, of Cooley Manion Jones, Boston.

“It’s fair to say this is a different case now that the plaintiffs have agreed—and Brandeis has agreed—they will not sell any work donated by the plaintiffs or their ancestors,” Reilly said.

A spokesperson for the Massachusetts state attorney general’s office told ARTnewsletter, “At this point we received a civil investigative demand from the court. That means we’re opening up an official investigation into Brandeis’s sales of art from the Rose Museum. We are a defendant in the lawsuit by virtue of the fact that we review all transfers of charitable assets” in the state. She added that the university is “fully cooperating.”

“The most important thing is that the attorney general sought and obtained a civil investigative demand,” Edward Dangel, the attorney for the plaintiffs, told ARTnewsletter. “That means Brandeis has to turn over a lot of documents. … It’s a very significant development. It’s an indication that the attorney general is getting more active in the case.”

However, Reilly downplayed the significance of the CID, saying that Brandeis had already agreed to provide information to the attorney general’s office at least five months ago. At the latest hearing, the university also agreed to give the attorney general’s office 30 days’ notice if it plans to sell any other art, in order to give the office an opportunity to review such sales.

Brandeis officials took the art world by surprise earlier this year when its board announced it had voted unanimously to close its prestigious Rose Art Museum and sell the collection to shore up the school’s finances (ANL, 2/3/09). At that time, university president Jehuda Reinharz said, “These are extraordinary times. We cannot control or fix the nation’s economic problems.” Reinharz later apologized and acknowledged that some aspects of the Rose decision and the announcement had been mishandled.

In a letter to the Brandeis community in early February, Reinharz wrote that certain statements “gave the misleading impression that we were selling the entire collection immediately, which is not true. The University may have the option … to sell some artworks if necessary …” He added that the museum “will remain open, but in accordance with the Board’s vote, it will be more fully integrated into the school’s educational mission.”

Reinharz has since announced that he plans to resign after this academic year (2009–10). The Rose Museum, which opened in 1961, has a permanent collection of more than 6,000 objects, with particular strengths in American art from the 1960s and ’70s, including work by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

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