Nov. 25 2009 12:00 AM

Warhol print of Brandeis latest in Cooley Law School's art collection


Ever since the inaugural issue of Art and Museum Law, a journal published by Cooley Law School and the Michigan Museums Association, featured an Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe on its cover four years ago, a couple of Cooley faculty members have been on a quest.

At first, the pursuit seemed futile.

Professor Charles Palmer, who serves on an Art at Cooley project, remarked about getting a piece like it for Cooley’s then fledgling collection. But Cooley’s collection is based on three criteria: acquisitions must be created by a Michigan artist, have some connection to one of the college’s four campuses or feature a legal theme.

Associate Dean Bill Weiner, who heads the project, told him, ‘”We’re not buying a Marilyn, It’s not a legal theme … go find [a Warhol] with a legal theme,”

“He looked at me like I was nuts,” Weiner recalled.

Palmer soon discovered that Warhol had done a series of screen prints of Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, and the two set out to track one down. “It has been like a grail for Palmer to find a Warhol of Louis Brandeis,” Weiner said.

Four years later, Weiner and Palmer were to unveil Cooley’s recently acquired Brandeis print during a reception Tuesday in the lobby of the Cooley Law Center, 300 S. Capitol Ave., where it will be on public display.

The Brandeis print was created in 1980 as part of Warhol’s “Ten Jews of the Twentieth Century” series of paintings, which were then turned into prints. Other subjects are Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, Martin Buber, Albert Einstein, Golda Meir, Sarah Bernhardt, George Gershwin, the Marx Brothers and Sigmund Freud. Cooley’s Brandeis is number No. 147 out of 200 that were printed, and bears the “147/200” in the bottom left corner, along with the artist’s signature. The 40-by-32-inch screenprint on Lenox Museum Board features the bright reds, blues, yellows and pinks found in Warhol’s other prints.  “It looks like a Marilyn, only it’s a guy you probably wouldn’t know, unless we told you who he was,” Weiner said.

Being a “guy you probably wouldn’t know” has other benefits, too. “Because he’s Louis Brandeis instead of Marilyn Monroe, it’s a little more in our reach financially as well,” Weiner said.

Weiner would not say how much Cooley spent on the print of where it was purchased from. The Brandeis print typically sells for $5,000 to $7,000, according to the Gordon’s Art Sales Index. The highest price ever paid for one was $10,000 in May 2008.

Palmer said when he first became interested in a Marilyn Monroe print, they were available for $10,000 to $15,000, but today they go for about $50,000. He said original Warhol paintings start at $1 million, noting a recent sale of a painting in New York for $43 million. “When you get up into the original Warhols, you’re really in the big bucks,” he said.

President Woodrow Wilson appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court in 1916, where he served until 1939, two years before he died.

Palmer said Brandeis’ major contributions to the law were related to issues of freedom of speech and the right to privacy.

“Most people don’t realize it, but we put people in prison during World War I for speaking out against the war,” Palmer said. “It was Brandeis and [Justice Oliver Wendell] Holmes who started speaking up for freedom of speech as we understand it today. It was initially a dissent, but the dissent got stronger; it’s our concept of freedom of speech today.”

When photographers interrupted a colleague’s daughter’s wedding reception, Palmer said Brandeis took up the cause of privacy and the right to be left alone, co-authoring a series of articles on the topic that stated people ought to be able to go about life without being harassed.

Another major contribution Brandeis made to the law is what came to be known as the “Brandeis briefs.” “He justified his positions with lots and lots of sociological evidence, which he cited in the brief,” Palmer said. “It was a whole new concept in the law and still is sort of an unusual thing.”

Cooley first started acquiring art in fall 2005 as part of an initiative proposed and sponsored by President Don LeDuc. Today there are 39 pieces cataloged in the collection. About a dozen more are being processed, some of which Weiner said will go in the official collection while others will serve as “merely decoration.”

Of the 39 works in the collection, Weiner said 17 are gifts. “As word gets out, people have started giving us stuff,” Weiner said.

For example, Weiner said a few years ago the committee decided it should purchase a Mathias Alten painting for its Grand Rapids campus. Alten (1871-1938) was an Impressionist painter from Grand Rapids known for his land and seascape paintings, as well as portraits, many of which were of judges. Not long after the unveiling of the first Alten, a lawyer and former Cooley student offered the school two more Alten paintings he had purchased at an auction. “Word spreads and more people get on board,” Weiner said. “We’re now getting cash contributions, too. [LeDuc] gives us some seed money, and we buy some art and people give us some more money. It’s become a nice little project, and I’d put more time in it if I didn’t have a day job.”