After a near-decade long world tour, the Jackson Pollock oil painting simply known as “Mural” is back in Iowa City and will return to public display later this month.
Lauren Lessing, director of the University of Iowa’s Stanley Museum of Art, says if Mural were a person, its passport would show at least 14 new venues and it would have earned more than 20,000 frequent flier miles.
“It was in Berlin, London, Venice, Barcelona, and then it came back to the United States. It’s been on the West Coast and the East Coast and several places in between,” Lessing says. “It has certainly made the rounds, but we’re very, very happy to have it home.”
The oil painting was produced in 1943 and measures 8 feet high by 20 feet long. Pollock was commissioned to create Mural by legendary art collector Peggy Guggenheim, who donated the piece to the University of Iowa in 1951. Lessing first saw Mural in 2004 and says it was breathtaking to see it again more recently after it was painstakingly cleaned and restored at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles.
“It was a revelation to me. It was really like a different painting and so I think a lot of our visitors will have that experience,” Lessing says. “Maybe they grew up with the painting, but they might really be seeing it for the first time with all of the dirt and grime removed. Paintings get dirty when they hang in the atmosphere for a long period of time.”
The painting was viewed by more than two-point-seven-million people after leaving Iowa City on a planned world tour immediately after the 2008 flood. During its tour, Mural was insured for 144-million dollars, though Lessing says that figure is abstract because the painting is irreplaceable. She calls Mural a beacon for art lovers everywhere as it marks a pivotal moment in Pollock’s career.
“We want to teach students to take that kind of risk, and to really make that kind of leap, and innovate, which is what that painting is all about,” Lessing says. “Because Pollock did what he did, it really paved the road for a whole school of artists to take that same route and that really led to the Abstract Expressionist movement.” Like food or music, everyone has their own opinion of art and not everyone loves Pollock’s swirls and spatters of paint.
Lessing says she’ll enjoy watching visitors see Mural for the first time. “Some people are going to love it right off the bat. Other people will struggle and then maybe come to a space where they appreciate it. Some people will struggle and never really find that it sings to them,” Lessing says, “but those are all valid ways to engage with works of art.” The Stanley Museum of Art will reopen August 26th.
The Pollock is among some 700 works of art in all media by more than 600 artists that will be on display.