Bill would force UI to sell $140 million Pollock painting


Jackson Pollock's Mural.
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Legislators introduced a bill in the Iowa House Wednesday that would require the University of Iowa to sell its famous Jackson Pollock painting and use the revenue for scholarship assistance.

The painting, titled Mural and originally hung in the UI Museum of Art, has been in Davenport and Chicago since the 2008 floods. It is valued at $140 million.

“This is an out-of-the box option to try avoiding a tuition increase and provide students [the ability] to go to Iowa,” said Rep. Nick Wagner, R-Marion, the vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “People will be upset about any decision you make; you just have to decide whether you should do it.”

Wagner said the move would provide funding for the university and could help keep tuition down and help students in the future.

“I don’t know if this is or isn’t [a good way to get money]. When everyone across state government looks at costs, they have to decide what will be best case going forward,” Wagner said. “This bill, such as any bill, you have to look at it and determine whether its best to sell or not sell it.”

Regent Michael Gartner suggested selling the painting — part of the UI’s 12,000 piece collection —in 2008 to offset costs of the floods, which destroyed much of the Arts Campus. UI President Sally Mason said she thought it was important for the university to keep the painting. In 2009, a state senator made a similar suggestion as university funding struggled. After intense backlashes, officials decided to keep the work.

But other colleges were selling their artwork at the same time. Rockford College, Thomas Jefferson University, and Fisk University all sold parts of their collections to offset budget woes.

But the bill has upset several art professors at the UI.

UI art and art history Professor Christopher Roy said the painting is a wonderful monument in the history of art and it is very important culturally to the state of Iowa. He said he doubts the bill will pass.

“It will never happen because it would be a terrible disgrace to the state and people of Iowa,” he said. “What I think is that we should sell Kinnick [football stadium] to Illinois or sell the State Capitol. That would be much more reasonable.” Then he laughed.

Roy said the sale would be devastating to his art students and would cause Iowa to go from being a great state with a great program, to “third-rate losers.”

“The arts is one of the most popular, lucrative professions … you can’t go anywhere and not see the impact of advertising and of architecture and all the impact of the arts nationally,” he said. “This kind of thing would be devastating.”

People are extremely upset about the bill, he said, but are not taking it seriously because they know it will never pass.

“It would be a disgrace to a civilized place such as Iowa. Whoever did such a thing would go down in history as one of the most disgraceful people in the history of the state,” Roy said. “I can’t believe anyone would be stupid enough to bring it up.”

UI art-history Professor Craig Adcock said he is also unhappy with the bill.

“It would be a disaster to sell the painting,” he said.

Adcock said, ideally, the painting will be displayed soon at the UI. He said he believes it is great to be able to see a masterpiece and extremely valuable to art students.

“You can show slides, but its nothing like standing in front of something like that,” he said. “The UI has a surprisingly strong collection of art, you would have to go to Harvard to get something better.”

UI spokesman Tom Moore said officials wouldn’t comment on the issue.

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