Warhol and Lichtenstein headline a snazzy new exhibit at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.
Forget It! Forget Me! by Roy Lichtenstein, 1962.
While few would ever question the enduring significance of the Pop art in the Rose Art Museum’s new exhibit “LA/ MA,” the museum itself has not escaped such criticism. Despite the striking, finely honed collection of modern and contemporary works at the Brandeis University institution, just a few years ago, during the deepest throes of the economic downturn, the college’s then-president, Jehuda Reinharz, offered a proposal: The museum should be shuttered and much of its collection sold off for the financial betterment of the university. The art world (not to mention the courts) issued a thunderous condemnation, the plan was dropped, and Reinharz resigned a year later. And today the collection once considered dispensable is the very reason the Rose is flourishing.
In 2012, after stints at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Christopher Bedford took the reins of the Rose as its new director (and at 35, he was one of the youngest museum directors in the country). A native of Scotland whose family moved to England and later the United States, Bedford—who has a penchant for long-distance running and natty dressing—quickly recognized the power and potential of the museum’s permanent collection, which was begun by the Rose’s founding director, Sam Hunter, in 1961. Hunter snatched up works by names that would soon be venerated: Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Alex Katz, Ellsworth Kelly. “It’s been evident that Sam Hunter was bold, audacious, and visionary,” says Bedford. “That can be most clearly stated.”
In “LA/MA,” a survey of Pop art from the ’60s, Bedford considers the work of the East Coast artists collected by Hunter and his colleagues, such as Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, and Andy Warhol, versus that of their lesser-known West Coast counterparts, including Joe Goode and Judy Chicago. While their work was comparable, Los Angeles– based artists didn’t receive the same recognition simply because they weren’t in New York. “What we’re doing is to suggest that there was another discourse entirely taking place on the West Coast,” Bedford says. “And because of geography, we didn’t incorporate those artists early on.” But as the Rose itself has demonstrated, it’s never too late for a course correction. September 12–December 13. 415 South St., Waltham, 781-736-3434