While the University of Iowa continues its frustrating battle with FEMA over where and if they can rebuild their art museum after floods in 2008 damage the former structure and forever made it un-insurable, the school has found itself locked into an art-based fight with another party, the Iowa state legislature. Unlike at Fisk or at Brandeis, where the universities themselves were trying to sell off some valuable art to help pay the bills, in U of I’s case, it’s the Republican leaders of the Iowa House, who just recently introduced and passed a bill that once again tries to make a case for the selling of the university’s prized, Peggy Guggenheim-donated “Mural” by Jackson Pollock (their last effort was just two years ago, immediately after the flood). The school doesn’t want it sold, the museum’s namesake, John Pappajohn, thinks the idea is “a disaster,” the Association of Art Museum Directors and the American Association of Museums have issued letters saying what a horrible idea this is (the AAM has also threatened to pull accreditation from the university, should it go through), and original letters from 1963, written by Ms. Guggenheim, have been dug out, indicating that she wanted the canvas to stay put or would fight for its return, should the University ever got the itch to sell. The House believes that the sale of the painting, which is estimated to be worth somewhere between $100 to $200 million, would help create a large scholarship endowment for arts students and programs. All well and good and altruistic, until, as the LA Times‘ Christopher Knight puts it, once that endowment runs out, “someone would tell the Legislature that the university’s great Max Beckmann painting was also worth a lot of cash. And how about that Ad Reinhardt? And — well, you get the idea.” Lee Rosenbaum, per usual, is going full guns on an important arts issue, recapping this ongoing controversy. Given how these things usually pan out in long, drawn out fights, we’re guessing/hoping she continues, and we’re all beneficial for it. For those in Iowa this week who are against the move, we highly recommend hitting up the ‘Save the Pollock’ Rally on Thursday morning.
Update: The issue is now moot, with the legislature backing down and the sale now off the table.