Posted by: Lesley Wright
State Rep. Scott Raecker, a Grinnell alumnus, has introduced a bill in the Iowa Legislature to sell a painting, Jackson Pollock's "Mural," owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art in order to create a fund to pay for scholarships for art students.
Here is the letter I sent to Representative Raecker explaining why I think this is a terrible idea.
Dear Representative Raecker,
I am writing in response to your bill introduced in the Iowa House seeking to sell the Jackson Pollock masterpiece owned by the University of Iowa Museum of Art. I am the director of the Faulconer Gallery at Grinnell College, and on the Advocacy Committee for the Iowa Museum Association.
While I applaud your desire to increase scholarships for the arts, I must protest your proposed method of funding. Selling off a painting that has been on view to countless generations of University of Iowa students, school children, visitors, and Iowa residents ever since it was given by Peggy Guggenheim would cut the heart out of the University of Iowa collection. Collections are given by passionate donors—alumni and friends alike—but they are also shaped by the dedicated professional staff at the museum, who develop a strong core collection to best communicate with their audiences. The Jackson Pollock painting you seek to sell is part of the core art collection in Iowa.
Selling this painting to fund arts scholarships is akin to selling off a theatre building to support theatre students, selling playing fields to support athletic scholarships, or selling off science equipment to fund the science students. It makes no sense and in fact sends a very mixed message: major in the arts but expect no security for your school’s arts initiatives.
The University of Iowa Museum of Art has a new director. From my meetings with him, I am impressed with his dedication to education, his vision, and his desire to spread art across the campus. He is also committed to working broadly with arts organizations across the state of Iowa. Fighting to save the Pollock is a distraction and keeps him from doing the job he was hired to do.
The real value of Jackson Pollock’s Mural lies in the inspiration it provides to nourish creativity and to educate anyone who sees it. When my daughter was 4 years old, she learned to recognize Pollock’s work with this painting. Grinnell students travel to Iowa City (and now Davenport) to see this masterpiece. A noted art historian visiting Grinnell from Morocco asked to visit the Pollock. It is that important and world-renowned, bringing distinction to our state.
When our children live 250-300 miles from the nearest major metropolitan area, it behooves all of us at the state’s colleges and universities (as well as private museums) to expose our audiences to the very best art we can—be that from our regional artists, from national figures like Jackson Pollock, or from international artists. Iowa is integrally tied to the wide world, a fact we celebrate every day. I commend the University of Iowa for finding a way to keep the Pollock and other key works in their collection on view at the Figge Museum as a means of serving all the people of Iowa and who visit Iowa until such time as they can rebuild in Iowa City.
Finally, on a more practical note, a painting the size of Mural is difficult and expensive to transport and it endangers the work of art every time it is moved. Expecting owner to send the piece to Iowa every few years from wherever in the world it winds up is risky at best and almost impossible to enforce. It’s a well-intentioned condition of sale, but not a good one.
I am sure there are excellent ways to raise scholarship funds for students at our State universities. Selling Pollock’s Mural will have negative repercussions that far outweigh the cash benefits. The value of art lies in the power of visual expression, the emotional response to a work, and to the stimulus to our imagination. The dollar value is paltry compared with the value of Pollock’s work to the human spirit. If we sell off the Pollock, we impoverish Iowa forever.
Lesley Wright, Director
Faulconer Gallery, Grinnell College