Your Georgia O'Keeffe is worth millions. And their rooms are in need of a makeover. (2023)


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With tuition falling, Valparaiso University of Indiana wants to raise money to renovate two dormitories by selling treasures from its art museum. Not everyone is on board.

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Your Georgia O'Keeffe is worth millions. And their rooms are in need of a makeover. (1)

VonKali Richardson

During his decades teaching literature at Valparaiso University, John Ruff went beyond words and took his students to the school's art museum to help them acquire what he called emotional wisdom. "Rosty Red Hills." When he wanted to draw parallels with 19th-century American literature, Frederic E. Church's "Mountain Landscape" was there.

But these paintings may not stay on campus much longer.

Valparaiso, a Northwest Indiana Lutheran university that is strugglingthe drop in enrollment in many schools, intends to sell several works from his collectionBrauer Art MuseumRaising $10 million to renovate two freshman dormitories, which he sees as key to securing his future.

The announcement angered many arts organizations and divided the university: last week the college Senate passed a non-binding resolution to halt the sale and find alternative ways to fund the renovations.

Richard Brauer, a retired art professor who served as director of the museum that now bears his name, told university officials he would like his name removed if the school proceeds with the sale.

“It really disgusts me,” said Brauer, 95. “I think it's wrong; The museum profession calls this worst practice. And I find it shameful."

Valparaiso is among many private colleges and universities looking for avenues such asdrastically reduce the advertised monthly fee— Tackling the decline in school enrollment for a generation of young adultsmore aware of the burden of student debt. Enrollment has fallen 39% since 2016 to 2,964 students last fall; Helaw school closedin 2020 and degrees like Bachelor and Frenchgot employed.

In response, Valparaiso developeda strategic five-year planThis includes improving the freshman experience. The residences date from the 1950s and 1960s, and managers say they are now in need of a major and expensive renovation. The paintings entered the Brauer collection in those same decades, and their value has skyrocketed since then. The school saw an opportunity.

Valparaiso President José D. Padilla said in his announcement to students and faculty that the school is "reallocating resources that are not fundamental or critical to our educational mission and strategic plan." In a statement to The New York Times, he said the decision to put the paintings on the market was not taken lightly, but "attracting and retaining students increases tuition, which strengthens our ability to serve our students." to serve".

The university's communications director, Michael Fenton, said the hope is the renovations -- one of the residences has single-pane windows and no air-conditioning -- will keep Valparaiso competitive with schools like Butler University in Indianapolis and Drake University in Des Moines.


O'Keeffe's painting, which depicts a landscape of rolling New Mexico hills in crimson hues, is the crown jewel of Brauer's collection and was exhibitedin Ireland, Spain and Canada. A sale is estimated to fetch $7 million. The orange work by Church, one of the Hudson River School's most successful artists, is valued at $1 million, and the university hopes to raise another $2 million through the sale of "The Silver Veil and the Golden Gate" by bring up Childe Hassam. a coastal landscape. by a pioneering American Impressionist.

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Schools often provoke controversy when they announce they will sell artwork to raise funds, an act known as baja. Several sales led to sanctions from artists' associations. To resolve a disputeBrandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts, reversed its decision to sell its artwork and close its museum, part of a plan it made in 2009 during the Great Recession.

Valparaíso's request to pay for the work on the rooms with the money from the paintings was refused. Students turned in dozens of letters in exchange for sale to the President's Office and 75 faculty members.expressed their disappointment in another letter.

"The problem is that the whole process was secret," said Ruff, who retired from classes in July and now works as a volunteer gallery assistant at the museum, where his wife long worked as an assistant curator and registrar.

The resolution of the faculty senate against the sale was passed by 13 votes to 6 with two abstentions. Jennifer Hora, a political science professor who voted in favor of the resolution, says she is concerned that future donors' wishes may not be respected if the sale goes through: "My real fear is that none of this is a win to anyone . One of the rejections came from Sami Khorbotly, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who said: "While we all appreciate and respect art, I think we have to prioritize and our students are our number one priority."




Some wonder if Valparaiso can legally sell the images. Fenton, the university spokesman, said the school believes it has permission to proceed with the sale and is conducting due diligence. But Brauer, the former director, said he believed a sale would violate the 1953 agreement that established the museum, a gift from Percy. Sloan in honor of his father, the self-taught Junius R. Sloan. (The museum, which now houses more than 5,000 works of art and receives 300 visitors a week, was originally called the Sloan Collection of American Paintings.)

This agreement stipulated that Valparaiso must keep the "monies and possessions" it received from the estate, under the terms set out in Percy Sloan's will. Under these conditions, the will stipulates that the proceeds must be used for the "conservation and special care" of the collection or for the "purchase of paintings by American artists".

The first donation to Valparaiso in 1953 included the church's landscape. In 1962, while Brauer was curator, Brauer purchased the O'Keeffe from the Sloan Trust for $5,700. Five years later he bought Hassam's play.

Nicholas O'Donnell, an attorney who represented plaintiffs in a lawsuit at the Berkshire Museum in MassachusettsDecoupling work to close budget gaps, noted that in an early confidence of Percy Sloan, the language emphasized that he wanted college students to be exposed to the beauty of art.

"Trust is very clear about what the art is going to be used for," O'Donnell said. "Not to be used as a piggy bank."

Valparaiso's announcement alarmed art societies about an old principle among museums: Proceeds from decommissioned pieces should be used to acquire new works, not operating costs. (The rules wererelaxed during the corona pandemic, OfMuseums can now use these fundsfor "the safekeeping or preservation of works of art").

four art clubsissued a joint statementCondemnation of Valparaíso and the idea that the works in the Brauer collection are "financial salable assets." One of the groups, the Art Museum Directors Association, also told museum director Jonathan Canning that if the university went through with the sale, it would consider censoring and sanctioning the museum.

In 2018, the association asked its more than 200 members to do soRefrain from sharing or collaborating with artworksLa Salle University Art Museum After School Philadelphiasell several piecespay for educational programs. In 2014,the association sanctionedRandolph College in Lynchburg, Virginia, which increased its endowmentA painting by George Bellows sold for $25.5 million.

"I am very concerned about the reprimand and the threat of sanctions," Canning wrote in an email to The Times.


Sophia Duray, a 21-year-old junior voice student who said she was pleased with her experience at Brandt and Wehrenberg Halls, the two halls of residence being renovated, sent a letter to the Valparaiso Student Senate opposing the pronounced sale.

"It's frustrating because this art museum situation isn't the first blow," Duray said of the interruption to his theater careercost reduction measuresnot music department.

Duray said that whenever he visits the Brauer Museum of Art, which reopened in November after closing due to the pandemic, he is comforted by the works that line its walls.

The paintings that are the focus of the debate are still on display and Ruff, who was an English teacher for 33 years, said he hoped they would remain a staple for everyone. I helped found Celebrating Black Artists. Exhibition in January when several well-dressed "From Outside" entered the dimly lit, closed museum.

Sotheby's auction house was there.


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