Provost Steve Goldstein hired Christopher Bedford, Wexner Center for the Arts curator, as the newest director of The Rose Art Museum, the university announced last month. His appointment ends the long search to fill the position, vacant since the departure of former director, Michael Rush, following the university’s aborted 2009 decision to sell its collection of acclaimed modern art due to financial problems.
University President Fred Lawrence called Bedford’s appointment the latest chapter of The Rose’s recovery.
“Chris coming on board is the most recent piece in the re-launch of The Rose, and really completes the re-launch,” Lawrence said in an interview last month.
The torrent of negative press that followed the decision to close the museum brought Brandeis’ Rose into the limelight. Bedford said, however, that though the story was negative, the outcome does not have to be. It “galvanized the museum world,” and brought larger focus onto the museum, and university art institutions as a whole.
The search firm Phillips Oppenheim scouted for qualified individuals to fill the director position, which The Rose has functioned without since 2009. Bedford was unconcerned with the recent debacle, which was covered in The New York Times, Reuters and National Public Radio.
“When they approached me,” Bedford said, “I had no hesitation whatsoever.” As director, Bedford believes he and the rest of The Rose’s staff can “do something very positive to counteract that history.”
Bedford, prior to appointment at The Rose, was curator of Ohio State’s Wexner Museum, and for the two years before that, assistant curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, as well as a consulting curator at the J. Paul Getty Museum.
“Los Angeles is where I really cut my teeth and learned what my priorities were,” Bedford said.
He discovered that he preferred working closely with artists and education, and then took that experience into the academic world. He developed a philosophy that is based on accessibility to a large number of people, and exhibits that are “physically topical.”
“In an ideal world, I would like museums to be as permeable as possible to as large a demographic as possible,” Bedford said.
Lawrence had hoped for a director with experience outside the academic sphere. “The Rose connects with both faculty and students, but also brings many, many people to campus,” he claims.
“It was important to have somebody who had experience both in the university and non-university museum world,” states Lawrence.
Lawrence hopes that Bedford will successfully be part of the Brandeis community.
In early 2009, former Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz announced that the board of trustees had voted to sell the acclaimed modern art collection. The decision was met with resistance, not only by the student body but also by the arts community at large.
The announcement came amid a wider financial crisis and plummeting endowment returns. With a crippling $80 million deficit, closing The Rose was one of the many cut-backs in the administration’s budget plan.
The university took many austerity measures to balance the budget. The administration instituted cuts in most departments, as well as through the elimination of majors such as Hebrew; a paring down of the theater program and the Chemistry PhD; and increases in both tuition and enrollment.
The proposed sale of the Rose collection, however, was met with the largest outcry, both from members of the public and the Brandeis student body. A lawsuit was filed by four members of The Rose’s board; and student demonstrations were covered by national media outlets. Brandeis paid $20,000 to public relations firms in an attempt to mitigate the negative press.
Last year, the university announced that no artwork would be sold. After major renovations, the museum was reopened in 2011, without a director.
The position remained unfilled until recently, when Bedford was hired. Bedford’s experience at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Getty, Lawrence said, will help him run the museum as an institution, and that his work “connecting with the university was very successful at Ohio.”
He will begin on Sept. 15, only a few weeks after classes begin. He was born in the United Kingdom and studied art history at Oberlin College, later on receiving a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve. He returned to the United Kingdom for a Ph.D. from the University of London.
He was chosen by Goldstein out of nine candidates who had been interviewed by the 13-member search committee. The search committee included faculty members, students and alumni, and was assisted by Phillips Oppenheim. The firm has completed recruitment searches for a number of universities, as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lincoln Center.
Because the committee did not have final say in the hiring, there was little hierarchy between the undergraduate, graduate and faculty members. The committee was “there to share a perspective,” rather than to deliver an individual to the administration, Director of the Office of the Arts Scott Edmiston said. Ultimately, Goldstein chose Bedford from among the nine finalists.
Despite lofty plans for the museum, including a large commissioned sculpture, Goldstein believes Bedford is capable of managing The Rose not only artistically, but financially as well, which is especially important after the recent years of instability. “He knows how to get shows on, how to communicate with artists, donors, collectors and others in the museum world,” Goldstein told BrandeisNOW in an interview last month. “He understands what it takes to do the work of the modern art museum.”
The search committee interviewed candidates multiple times during the past year. The committee, which included an undergraduate art student, was struck by Bedford’s experience.
“The search committee was impressed by his energy and ideas,” Edmiston said. Edmiston is excited by the appointment, and believes that Bedford’s history at both private and academic institutions will better help to integrate the museum into campus life.
“[Bedford] spoke meaningfully about education,” Edmiston said, and believes that the student body will react well to Bedford’s efforts. Bedford, Edmiston says, understands the student population and would like to make the university more accessible.
While Bedford says he is “hesitant to embark on anything” until he has been at The Rose for some time, he is already committed to “a ‘new Rose’ through a large work of public sculpture,” which he thinks will help to bring the museum into university life.
“The museum is really quite centrally located on campus,” Bedford said, “There’s really no reason it shouldn’t be a social hub to the students.”