House Republicans are moving ahead with plans to sell a painting owned by the University of Iowa that’s worth an estimated $140-million. Representative Ralph Watts, a Republican from Adel, says the money from the sale of the Jackson Pollock painting could be used to provide scholarships to art students.
“That’s a discussion that should be had because if that $140 million were put into a fund the interest of which would provide at least a thousand art students full tuition in perpetuity,” Watts says. Watts says there’s “aren’t really any restrictions” that would prevent the sale.
“What we’re about is, I hope, educating students as our primary objective and managing a museum as a secondary objective,” Watts says. Representative Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, opposes the sale. “If there’s going to be a buyer, it’s going to be in one of two places. It’s going to be in the Middle East, like in Dubai, or it’s going to be in China,” Murphy says. “So we’re basically selling it to a foreign entity to get money for kids to go to school.” Murphy questions where legislators will stop if they take this step.
“You know, there are certain things I think the taxpayers in this state just don’t want to minimize,” Murphy says. “The next question then is when you start running neon signs off the capitol building and leasing out the rental space for it?” Jackson Pollock painted “Mural” in 1943 — in art dealer Peggy Guggenheim’s apartment. She gave the painting to the University of Iowa in the 1951 and Murphy says the family has indicated it wants it back if the university no longer wants it.
University of Iowa Museum of Art director Sean O’Harrow calls the proposed sale “cultural vandalism.” “It’s really unfortunate that our heritage has to become a political football,” O’Harrow says. Lawyers for the university warned legislators this morning that selling the painting would make other donors to the university wary. O’Harrow says it’s the most famous painting in the state and putting the painting up for sale sends the wrong signal.
“It will ruin Iowa’s reputation around the world and you know my feeling is that reputation isn’t for sale,” O’Harrow says. “…This action will go down in infamy as one of the worst decisions made in the state of Iowa.” Watts, the Republican who is the bill’s floor manager, says legislative leaders “intend to move” the sale forward, over the objections of University of Iowa officials.
See the painting here: uima.uiowa.edu/jackson-pollock