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Regents differ on Pollock bill

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Two state Board of Regents members are taking opposite sides of a proposed bill that would force the University of Iowa to sell its famous Jackson Pollock painting estimated to be worth roughly $140 million.

On Feb. 9, Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, introduced the bill, which would instruct the UI to use the money from selling Mural to create a trust fund and later supply as many as 1,000 scholarships for UI art students.

The bill would require the institution that bought the painting to loan it to the UI for three months once every four years.

“One of the questions we need to ask is, ‘What is the core purpose of the UI?’ ” Raecker said. “Is it a university with a core purpose to fund its students or to build its Art Museum?”

Regent President David Miles said on Feb. 11 he feels the proposal to sell the art is a “profoundly bad idea.”

In a written statement, Miles cited the 2008 discussion in which the regents decided selling the painting would not be in the UI’s best interest when the debate surfaced after the flood.

“A forced sale of this painting by the Iowa Legislature would break trust with all who have contributed to the arts at the UI over the years, would chill any future donations, and may well lead to litigation with the family that donated Mural to the UI in the first place,” Miles said.

Peggy Guggenheim donated Mural to the UI in 1951 along with several other pieces.

Raecker said no contractual obligation existed Guggenheim when selling the piece.

Regent Michael Gartner, responding to Miles in a statement, said funding scholarships is more important than owning art.

Gartner suggested selling the painting in 2008 to help with flood costs on the Arts Campus.

“The fact of the matter is that this warrants discussion and even at the regents’ level, there is open disagreement, which leads me to believe this issue is something we should be looking into,” Raecker said.

The painting was displayed in the UI Museum of Art until the flood; it has been relocated to Davenport.

The Association of Art Museum Directors in New York City issued a statement Feb. 11 saying the potential sale of the multimillion-dollar artwork as a violation of the “fundamental ethical principle of the museum field, one which all accredited museums are bound to respect.”

Christine Anangos, deputy director of the Association of Art Museum Directors, told The Daily Iowan the organization feels very strongly against the UI selling the 68-year-old piece.

“Museums should not sell paintings to fund their institutions,” she said. “We don’t feel anyone should treat collections as assets.”

Raecker said the study bill is not a suggestion to discredit fine art, but he said he believes funding students should be a priority.

UI art Professor Wallace Tomasini, who’s been familiar with the Pollock painting since 1957, said the fame the artwork has brought the UI is enough reason for officials not to sell.

“For me, the real importance is not only that students are presented with the opportunity to see a great masterpiece of the 20th century,” he said. “But that it gives prestige to the museum and has helped make the UI museum of one of the best in country.”


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