Save the Gardner!!!

Two big pieces of news about Boston-area museums this week:

First, Brandeis University announced it was going to shutter the Rose Art Museum on campus and sell off the collection, valued at $350 million (maybe). This was greeted with a predictably deafening uproar. The university has since backed off a little and may actually hold on to the art, but just close the museum. A not-entirely-convincing attempt to save face, I think, and as a solution it accomplishes exactly nothing.

Second, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is attempting to sidestep the very specific conditions laid out in the founder's will and make upgrades to the building, apparently consisting of a contemporary addition to the Venetian palazzo that houses the collection. This one surprisingly flew a little bit under the radar, maybe overshadowed by the Brandeis announcement.

OK... I'm going to throw out the balanced editorial approach and just state my blunt opinion on these items.

Brandeis Museum
Yawn - who cares? It's in a lousy location (Brandeis is in a lousy location), and every time I was there, I was the only person there. If the university truly needs the money, sell the collection. Educating students is MUCH more important than hoarding a stockpile of artwork. If even a few of the pieces end up in major metropolitan museums where they have a chance of being seen by more people, then the public is better served. (I was a grad student at Brandeis, so I have some passing familiarity with the subject).

Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner built a highly eccentric and deeply individual museum which is in itself a work of art. Her will very specifically said: DON'T SCREW WITH THIS.

There's a good reason for that. An afternoon at the Gardner is an exhasperating, enchanting, frustrating, thrilling, absolutely uniquely beautiful experience; it's my favorite museum in the whole wide world, and I know many, many others think exactly the same thing. I don't for a minute buy the argument that the museum is in deep trouble, but even if it were, punching holes in it is NOT the way to fix it. There must be a better way. And even if the changes proposed didn't fundamentally alter the museum, it creates a precedent. A really, really bad one.

The Gardner is a unique personal vision.

Leave it that way.