Curator, writer, and actor Michael Rush, who was serving as director of Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum in Waltham, Massachusetts, when, in 2009, the university attempted to deaccession the museum’s entire collection to bolster the university’s financial stability, died on Friday of pancreatic cancer. He was 65. The news was confirmed by Michigan State University’s Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, where Rush had been founding director since 2010, a job he took after Brandeis declined to renew his contract in 2009.
Rush was informed of Brandeis’s plan to shutter the Rose and sell its collection only shortly before the Boston Globe contacted him about the news in January 2009, and he declined to comment in its first story, though he quickly became a vocal opponent of the initiative while still on staff at the university, writing in a statement, in part:
I want to express to you, the Rose Art Museum community, my shock and horror at the university’s decision to close the Rose Art Museum. As a member of the Brandeis community I feel shame and deep regret over the shortsightedness of this decision.
It took more than two years, but the plan was eventually scuttled.
Rush came to the Rose from the Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, where he was also the founding director, from 2000 to 2004.
An award-winning curator, he also published widely in art magazines and catalogues, and penned surveys of new media and video art for Thames & Hudson. In addition, he also hosted a radio show on Alanna Heiss’s Art International Radio called Rush Interactive.
Before entering the art world, Rush was a Jesuit priest for 15 years, and earned a doctorate in psychology at Harvard in 1980. He was also an actor, and appeared on Law and Order in the 1980s. As Lansing’s City Pulse reported, he came to art via La MaMa, the experimental New York theater group with close ties to the visual arts.
He is survived by his partner Hyun-Jae Pi and his siblings Mary Ann Rush Hertig, Joseph Peter Rush, and Deborah Rush.
“I talk in real terms, not in gobbledygook,” Rush told City Pulse in that interview. “I really believe that contemporary art has a lot to say to a broad spectrum of people.”
“I’m totally into beauty,” he added. “But what I mean by beauty is a pretty expansive idea. I can find a neon sculpture by Joseph Kosuth with quotes from Freud and Wittgenstein beautiful. They really turn me on.”
Update, March 31: An earlier version of this post misstated Michael Rush’s age. He was 65.