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Art Collector Irked By Brandeis Museum Closing


A significant art collection is going to be sold - works by Wilhelm de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Liechtenstein, James Rosenquist and many others. It's the collection of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.

Brandeis is running a deficit, and it's reported could reach $10 million. University President Jehuda Reinharz spoke of this as a difficult, but necessary step for the school whose endowment has lost a great deal of its value.

This might also be in part a spin off of the Bernard Madoff scandal. Over the years, Brandeis's most generous donor has been Carl Shapiro and the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation. And Mr. Shapiro, whose now in his 90s, made a fortune in the garment business. He sold his company, Kay Windsor dresses, to Vanity Fair and invested much of the proceeds with an associate of his son-in-law, Robert Jaffe. That associate was Bernard Madoff.

In any case, back to the art collection at Brandeis. David Genser has donated art to the Rose Museum and joins us now from Waltham in Massachusetts. I read in the Boston Globe that first you donated a James Rosenquist print last year. Can you describe it for us a bit?

Mr. DAVID GENSER (Art Donor): Yes, it is a print that was done at Tyler Graphics during the '80s. My wife who's really the expert, she felt that this was one of the most major prints that he had ever done. And this particular piece was at least 10-feet long. And in discussion with the Rose, they said they would very much love to have the piece. And so, last year, Joan and I donated it to Brandeis.

SIEGEL: Well, what's your reaction to learning that the Rosenquist, along with thousands of other works, will be sold to restore the university's endowment?

Mr. GENSER: Well, my reaction is one of extreme disappointment, and I think that it's a great travesty. The Rose, as described by its president, is a jewel, and their collection is one of the finest collections of contemporary art, particularly artists of the '60s, the pop artists, in the country.

SIEGEL: I've read that the Rose Museum collection has been appraised at perhaps $350 million. It's the property of the University whose endowment had been, I gather, as much as $700 million. we don't know what it is...

Mr. GENSER: Right.

SIEGEL: Right now. But when the university is looking at greatly increasing tuition costs, reducing course offerings or cutting faculty if the mission is teaching - can you sympathize at all with the decision to, say, we have this asset which is secondary to our purpose, we must, alas, sell it.

Mr. GENSER: Obviously, Brandeis is very important to my wife and myself, and if this is something that they must do in order to survive, and I sympathize and I understand. However, take a look at the collection and determine how they can save the collection. Perhaps it can be sent on tour and raise money. Perhaps they can borrow against the art. There are many, many banks that will take this art as collateral.

SIEGEL: Not a great time to be trying to borrow money.

Mr. GENSER: There is no question it's not a great time, but it should be looked into.

SIEGEL: The act of donating a valuable work of art, it is obviously done so that it can be displayed. But the work also has value and isn't it always implicit when one makes such a gift that when it's giving that value to the institution and one thing that institution might do is swap it or sell it.

Mr. GENSER: Well, (laughing) one doesn't expect that today, because museums are selective in what they are taking from donors. And in this particular case, there is no way that this piece would be sold other than the fact that they obviously are talking about liquidating the entire institution of the Rose. And so, that's a different story.

SIEGEL: Well, Mr. Genser, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. GENSER: Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.

SIEGEL: It's David Genser of Boston, Massachusetts. He and his wife Joan donated a piece to the Rose Museum, the Art Museum at Brandeis University. The entire collection is to be sold to recoup loses of Brandeis' endowment. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.