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Great Promise Personified in New Rose Director

By Max Randhahn

Section: Arts

August 24, 2012

In selecting Christopher Bedford, who served as chief curator at the Wexner Center for the Arts, to be director of the Rose Art Museum, Provost Steve Goldstein chose wisely. Hailing from the U.K., Bedford achieved a B.A. in art history from Oberlin College, with an M.A. in art history from Case Western Reserve University. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. at the Courtauld Institute of Art at the University of London.
Bedford has been involved in the curatorial process for a relatively short time, but has nonetheless amassed an impressive portfolio. He has served as a curatorial assistant and consulting curator at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles before becoming assistant curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). After two years at LACMA, Bedford joined the curatorial team at the Wexner Center for the Arts, and will now serve as director of The Rose at the young age of 35.
Bedford is acutely aware of the machinations of the art world; writings and essays of his appear in several anthologies and journals, including “Frieze and Artforum.” Both his success and his ideas have made Bedford a recognized name in the art world, from critical as well as practical perspectives. Bedford is no stranger to the Boston area; he organized a critically acclaimed Mark Bradford retrospective that appeared at the Institute of Contemporary Art in 2010, and is currently editing a collection of Chris Burden’s writings (whose works may be an upcoming exhibition at the Rose) for MIT Press.
Given his meteoric rise, Bedford’s zeal and aptitude may provide just the solution to elevate the recently ailing Rose to new heights.
Borne out of a need to house the art donations received in the university’s early days, The Rose has since become the leading collection of modern and contemporary art in New England. In 2009, during the global economic crisis, the board of trustees voted to sell art in order to recoup funds lost by the university and its donors. Outcry from critics, the campus and the museum’s overseers, however, brought a lawsuit to stop the art sale. The suit was resolved last year, with no works sold and the reopening of the museum coinciding with its 50th anniversary.
A similar event occurred in 1991, resulting in the sale of eleven works – despite criticism from the art world – netting Brandeis $3.5 million. The lawsuit resulting from the recently proposed sale reveals that interest in art on campus is on the rise, particularly in comparison with the 1991 environment. Bedford’s appointment as director provides a chance to capitalize on the attention and praise The Rose currently receives. His enthusiasm and bold visions could galvanize the campus and the art community at large to appreciate The Rose for it’s true worth.
Drawn to The Rose by its impressive collection, as well as the attention it gathered following the art sale debacle, Bedford saw a chance to restore The Rose to its former glory. He has shared some major plans, including a desire to make The Rose a focus for campus activity, the acceptance of input from faculty across the disciplines, expansion of the facility, and commissioning a major public sculpture outside the museum. He has paid particular attention to The Rose’s strength: post-World War II American painting. Bedford aims to expand The Rose’s existing collection by acquiring contemporary abstract paintings from the U.S. and Europe, and accepting donations of Modernist art.
Under his directorship, parts of the collection would be on rotation for public view, sometimes giving attention to a single artist. This will ensure that The Rose’s strengths remain in focus, all the while providing fresh material for visitors. The most novel of his goals is the unorthodox curatorial approach he plans to take, involving contract-based curators.
Bedford seeks to broaden the Rose’s appeal to make it both a campus and a cultural fixture. The finances of such a venture will surely be difficult, but not impossible. Bedford has said that fundraising will be required; which is understandable, given The Rose’s tumultuous past.
But the case is now as it was when The Rose opened in 1961. President Abram Sachar wrote of the museum, at the time of its first opening: “There were murmurs on and off campus about the imprudence of a university in hankering after an art museum when it needed so much else in terms of ‘basic’ commitments. As often before and since, the dilemma was resolved because we followed, loosely to be sure, Thackeray’s sanguine guidance: ‘Keep one eye on heaven, and one on the main chance.”
It is that spirit that Bedford brings back to The Rose that gives this community great interest to watch his directorship.

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