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Art donors wary after Pollock bill

BY ARIANA WITT | FEBRUARY 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Des Moines resident Joan Mannheimer donated hundreds of pieces of art to the University of Iowa Museum of Art in 1980 and had recently considered giving prints to the UI.

Now, she won’t.

Mannheimer — whose husband and son graduated from the UI College of Law — said she never felt the artwork was in jeopardy of being sold, but the recent debate over the Jackson Pollock painting made her reconsider the state’s commitment to art.

“I have a great deal of confidence in [UI Art Museum Director Sean] O’Harrow and his dreams to build a new museum,” Mannheimer said. “But it really is the collection that is the museum and that should be protected. I don’t know that it is.”

She’s not the only one.



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Several donors said they could be done donating to the UI Museum of Art following the controversy over Jackson Pollock’s Mural. Rep. Scott Raecker, R-Urbandale, withdrew a hotly contested bill on Monday that would have forced the museum to sell the donated painting, estimated to be worth $140 million, to fund student scholaships.

While the bill is now dead, many said it’s clear the amount of attention it received will likely have a lasting effect.

O’Harrow, who started on the job Nov. 15, 2010, said he’s heard from several uneasy donors and thinks UI officials need to work with legislators to rebuild trust in the museum. More than 90 percent of the collection comes from gifts.

“It’s our job as an institution and a regent university to develop relationships with those donors to ensure we will honor their intentions,” O’Harrow said in response to the donors’ comments. “It may be harder now than before, but it’s important for them to know that’s what we’re here to do.”

Iowa City residents Gerald and Hope Solomon have donated more than 30 pieces of work to the UI museum since 1995, the last donation being 19 Native American drawings in December 2010. They said, although they have a stipulation requiring any profit from selling their donations to be used to purchase more art, they are still wary of future business with the museum.

“Right now, I just don’t see us giving anything in the future,” said Gerald Solomons, a retired UI Hospitals and Clinics physician.

Gerald Solomon said he and his wife’s concerns for their art began the first time a sale of *Mural* was suggested by Regent Michael Gartner after the 2008 flood, but they thought the issue was over.

“If we’d known the selling of the Pollock would come up again, we wouldn’t have donated the drawings in December,” Gerald Solomons said.

But Rep. Ralph Watts, R-Adel, who supported the bill, said he feels donors thinking of breaking ties with the UI are being “unrealistic,” adding that if they don’t want their pieces up for potential sale, they should ensure a stipulation that prohibits it.

“The whole thing has been overblown a bit,” he said.

Raecker could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

But not all donors are rethinking their gifts.

Gerald Eskin, a former ceramics professor in the UI School of Art and Art History, and wife Sandra Eskin, who have donated a few pieces since 2006, said they would continue donating to the UI.

“I think that we have a basis for a very fine museum, and we will continue to support it,” said Sandra Eskin.

Unlike art collectors, less serious donors could see the museum’s fight and ultimate victory as a positive sign and increase donations, said Dewey Blanton, director of Strategic Communication for the American Association of Museums.

John Scott, the director of the UI School of Art and Art History, said he anticipates future donors and patrons will understand the necessity of donations as a educational resource.

Ultimately, O’Harrow said, things could have been worse.

“If we had sold the piece, we would be in trouble,” he said. “But we haven’t, so we’re not.”

The Art Museum has also suffered a loss in donations after the 2008 flood. Donors contributed $192,870 during fiscal 2010 — a decrease from $324,550 in 2009 and $523,024 in 2008. The flood forced the collection out of its permanent home on the west campus. Since then, the more than 12,000 pieces have been housed throughout campus and at the Figge Museum of Art in Davenport.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has denied the UI’s request for funding replacement costs twice. UI officials are now appealing to FEMA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.


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