U of Iowa hangs on to Pollack painting

* The Iowa legislature Monday wisely decided against advancing a bill proposing the sale of “Mural,” the Jackson Pollock painting owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art. The legislature withdrew the controversial proposal that would have forced the museum to sell its most iconic piece, valued at $140 million. A bit of background: Rep. Scott Reacker introduced a bill in early February, suggesting that the funds earned from the sale of the Pollock piece could be used to fund 1,000 scholarships for art students. Last week, the appropriations subcommittee voted 2-to-1 to advance the measure, causing immediate — and well-deserved — controversy. Peggy Guggenheim donated the artwork to the museum in 1951. The university agreed then that it would not sell the work. Pollock’s “Mural” is undoubtedly one of the most important works the artist ever made, and is the cornerstone of the University of Iowa’s collection. President Sally Manson told the Daily Iowan that selling the piece would go against “everything that we stand for.” The sting of this attack on university museums lingers even after the bill’s demise. The Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (full disclosure: it’s my employer) owns an amazing collection; many of its pieces carry impressive price tags. Thankfully, the Legislature in Nebraska has never suggested selling parts of Sheldon’s collection to fund art scholarships — an oxymoron if there ever has been one — or anything else.  * Though the Legislature isn’t currently taking aim at the Sheldon’s collection, it is aiming to cut funding to public art. LB497 proposes to put a moratorium on Nebraska’s 1% for the Arts program. Introduced by Sen. Gwen Howard of Omaha, measure received a public hearing Feb. 14. More than 50 people wrote letters and sent emails to the Appropriations Committee in opposition to the bill. We will know soon if the proposal for a 10-year moratorium on the program will go before the full Legislature. The 1% program has been in effect since 1978, making it one of the oldest public art programs in the nation, and the loss would be detrimental to practicing artists in Nebraska. It would also mean that state buildings that the legislature votes to build or renovate (the only ones that get considered for the program) won’t have any money devoted to the creation and installation of public art. As I said in this space last week, public art is simply too important to cut. Selling iconic, university-owned art in order to fund university programs is silly. It’s times like these — times of war, of economic strife, of depression — when artists turn to their craft and make statements that live for generations. It’s also, apparently, times like these when lawmakers turn to the arts as a source of money to pay for other things. If Nebraska’s 1% for the Arts program gets cut, one thing is likely: It won’t soon return. Write to the Appropriations Committee Chair, Sen. Lavon Heidemann, and to Sen. Howard. Nebraskans For the Arts has all the contact information on its website, nebraskansforthearts.org.

posted at 12:44 pm
on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

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