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The Rose Art Museum's board chairman speaks

February 10, 2009 | 12:18 pm

Rose Art Museum The ongoing uproar over Brandeis University's shocking plan to close the Rose Art Museum and sell all or part of its distinguished painting and sculpture collection continues to unfold. In a fascinating two-part interview published today on the blog Modern Art Notes (here and here), Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose board of overseers and a firm opponent of the university's plan, makes a statement that goes to the core of what's at stake.

"The Rose is a cultural and an artistic legacy of post-World War II Jewry, who got over the shock of Hitler and World War II," Lee says, "and pulled themselves up and made money and became philanthropic and culturally inclined; so they collected art, supported the university and gave it art. It's a beautiful legacy."

The historic relevance of this fact cannot be overstated. Hitler's Germany declared Jews to be vermin and Modern art to be degenerate. What Lee evokes is a picture of postwar Jewish American cultural philanthropy, enshrined at the Rose (as elsewhere) in a profound way, that represents a very specific refusal and restoration. Dismantling the Modern art museum, built within a generation of the Holocaust at a progressive Jewish university, tears that achievement asunder.

We sometimes think that the cultural aftermath of World War II has all been sorted out -- that it's settled and fully understood. As "Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures," the surprising and extraordinary new exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, makes vividly clear, that's far from the case.

The looming catastrophe at the Rose Art Museum is yet another facet of the same evolving consciousness.

--Christopher Knight

Photo: Rose Art Museum; credit: Essdras M. Suarez / Associated Press

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