Update: Jackson Pollock debate heats up in Iowa

The University of Iowa tile mosaic at Iowa Hall.

The University of Iowa tile mosaic at Iowa Hall.

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A new bill requires the University of Iowa to sell its famed Jackson Pollock painting, which is worth tens of millions of dollars, to provide scholarships to undergraduate art majors, the legislation’s main backer said Thursday.

Pollack’s 8-by-20-foot Mural, is the centerpiece of the university’s art collection. The Iowa City Press-Citizen said it was valued at $140 million in 2008.

“If the core function of the university is to educate students, this could provide a $5 million a year endowment. It could let 750 to 1,000 students get a full-ride scholarship every year,” State Rep. Scott Raecker told The Associated Press.

Raecker, R-Urbandale, is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He introduced the bill on Wednesday. He said he plans to check with university officials to see if the painting is actually used in art education.

Pollock is an American painter and a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement. He died in 1956 at the age of 44.

The idea of selling the painting is sure to stir emotions in Iowa City, as it did when record flooding swamped 20 university buildings in 2008, including the university’s Museum of Art.

Iowa Board of Regents President Michael Gartner suggested selling the painting to help pay for flood recovery on campus. The university campus and the art community rebuked the idea, and the regents decided against it.

The painting has been on display at the Figge Museum in Davenport because the university’s art museum remains closed.

Faculty Senate President Ed Dove told the Press-Citizen that renewed suggestions to sell the painting are “shortsighted” because it is one of the university’s best-known pieces and invaluable to education.

“Getting rid of that national asset, the Pollock painting, would be a disaster for the university,” he said.

He said it would defeat the purpose of having an art school and art history department, and a museum of art.

Under Raecker’s bill, proceeds from the sale would go into a trust, the interest from which would fund scholarships. The buyer would have to lend the painting to the university for three months at a time at least once every four years.

“The university will not be discussing this matter,” said university spokesman Tom Moore.

Local legislatures have vowed the fight the bill.

“It’s still a bad idea,” said state Sen. Joe Bolkcom, an Iowa City Democrat. “There is no need to have a fire sale here.”

State Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, said he has spoken to Democratic Senate leaders, who control the chamber, and they said the Senate would oppose the bill if it passes the Republican-led House.

“There is a need for more scholarships, but this seems to be a cynical poke in the eye for UI,” he said.

According to the University of Iowa Museum of Art’s web site, Peggy Guggenheim gave the painting to the university in 1951. Guggenheim, a leading dealer of modern art in New York, died in 1979.

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AP-CS-02-10-11 1344EST



The University of Iowa tile mosaic at Iowa Hall.

The University of Iowa tile mosaic at Iowa Hall.