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UI arts community celebrates withdrawal of Pollock bill

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Pollock bill is dead.

On Monday, Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, the head of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee, withdrew the controversial proposal, which would have forced the University of Iowa Museum of Art to sell the $140 million painting Mural, by Jackson Pollock, and use the revenue to supply roughly 1,000 scholarships to art students.

Before Raecker’s decision, the Iowa House Appropriations Committee was set to vote on the bill Monday afternoon.

Raecker, who introduced the bill Feb. 9, said issues surrounding the potential legislation became “so polarized that reaching consensus is unlikely.”

“I’m a firm believer in the legislative process, and further discussion of the sale of the Pollock painting will not be moved forward in the Legislature this year,” Raecker wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Iowan.

State Board of Regents President David Miles said he thinks withdrawing the bill was the right decision, though he applauded Raecker for bringing attention to the financial needs of students.

“While I know intentions were correct, sacrificing the Pollock was not the way to get at the issue,” he said. “Today is a great day for the art students at the university.”

A House subcommittee voted in favor of the bill Feb. 16, but Raecker said Monday he feels the discussion had gone far enough.

“Right now, the Legislature needs to focus on passing a budget for Iowans that meets their priority needs and doesn’t spend more than we take in,” he said.

The withdrawal sends a message to the art world that Iowa is a place that still values its arts culture, said Sean O’Harrow, executive director of the UI Museum of Art.

He said legislators’ attempts to sell the painting could affect the museum, but not as much as if the bill had continued through the Legislature.

“We might have work to do with donors,” O’Harrow said, regarding the negative impact officials say the discussion has had on past and potential donors.

Earlier on Monday, before the news that the bill had been dropped, UI President Sally Mason told the DI she was strongly against selling the painting for many reasons. But most importantly, she said, was that the university had promised Peggy Guggenheim — who donated the artwork in 1951 — that it wouldn’t sell it.

“If our word means anything, I think selling the painting, obviously, would go against everything that we believe in, everything that we stand for,” Mason said. “I’ve always viewed Iowans as people who are trustworthy, and people who, when they give you their word, you can trust it. So I’d find this very difficult and challenging on an ethical basis.”

John Scott, the director of the UI School of Art and Art History, said he hopes keeping the painting will serve as a representation of the value of art in Iowa.

Scott said because Pollock’s family has roots in the state, ensuring the painting stays in Iowa has increased significance.

“This goes beyond the UI,” he said. “We need to look at the painting and the artists as cultural icons for our state.”

Gov. Terry Branstad publicly opposed the bill Monday. He said a number of issues arose regarding the painting’s sale and was concerned about the negative effect on the future of the university.
Miles agreed.

“We really need to stop cutting state appropriations going forward and start reinvesting in public universities,” Miles said, and alternatives to the bill should come in the form of increasing state funding for regent schools.

Appropriations Committee member Rep. Tyler Olson, D-Cedar Rapids, said the bill distracted legislators from a goal of funding higher education. He said he feels lawmakers should fully fund regent institutions but not at the expense of art.

UI art students and faculty were planning to protest the bill Thursday, but UI junior Erica Blair said the event might be off. Blair and seven other UI students created the Facebook event, but now the art student said she’s fine not attending.

“I’m happy that we can move on from this, and I just hope that legislators in the future won’t try to sell Mural as a way to get money,” she said.


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