What’s Going On With University of Iowa’s Pollock?

Jackson Pollock, “Mural” (1943) (image from

The idea has once again arisen to sell University of Iowa’s Jackson Pollock masterpiece “Mural” (1943), but this time it’s not to pay for flood damage to the University’s museum. Representative Scott Raecker (R-Urbandale) of the Iowa House of Representatives has introduced a bill to force the sale of the artwork to pay for student scholarships.

In a conflict that pits the abstract value of art against the literal value of money, the Pollock is now a pawn in what has been called an “attack on the University of Iowa” by Democratic Iowa Senator Robert Dvorsky. Raecker argues that the sale of the painting, valued at $140 million, would finance a “$5 million a year endowment,” and “could let 750 to 1,000 students get a full-ride scholarship every year.” But the museum argues that the Pollock provides Iowa with its most significant piece of artwork, an invaluable cultural resource and educational tool.

View of the University of Iowa Museum of Art (image from

The painting was donated to the university in 1951 by Peggy Guggenheim, whose directly stated wishes include that the Pollock not be sold. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Association of Museums (AAM) have issued a response condemning the proposed sale:

Such a sale would violate a fundamental ethical principle of the museum field, one which all accredited museums are bound to respect: that an accessioned work of art may not be treated as a disposable financial asset.

According to Artinfo, The director of the university’s art museum, Sean O’Harrow, called the notion of selling the painting “one of the most ludicrous ideas I’ve ever heard. That would be like selling your grandmother.” In an official statement released by the University of Iowa Art Museum, Meghan Centers explains the impact the painting has had on visitors and viewers:

Since March 2009, when Pollock’s Mural was returned to the state of Iowa after the 2008 flood and exhibited in the UIMA’s gallery at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, more than 100,000 Iowa students, Iowa citizens and Iowa visitors have seen the painting and have been educated on American art. The sale of Pollock’s Mural would not only harm our ability to teach art and related subjects at the University of Iowa, but also be a tremendous loss to the people of the state of Iowa.

The sale is a terrible idea, and to attempt to pass a political measure that would force the sale is no less than abusing the power of the state. The Iowa government has no authority to sell a masterpiece entrusted to it just because a single political party seeks to denigrate the importance of art to the level of sheer anonymous capital. The Pollock is a treasure of American art history and to sell it would be to deprive the public of a piece of our shared cultural heritage. Shame on Raecker.

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