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Iowa’s Pollock “Mural” Will NOT Be Sold; Q&A with Museum Director Pamela White

Jackson Pollock, “Mural,” 1943, University of Iowa Museum of Art

Let’s dispel the rumors and misinformed speculation that have been percolating in the blogosphere:

First and most importantly: The University of Iowa will not be selling its Pollock “Mural.” Let me repeat that (as Joe Biden would say): THE UNIVERSITY OF IOWA IS NOT GOING TO SELL ITS POLLOCK “MURAL.”

This was first signaled by a statement declaring that the matter was closed, which was issued by the Iowa Board of Regents’ president, David Miles, on the same day, Oct. 3, when the Regents also released its nine-page Report on Questions Related to Sale of Jackson Pollock’s 1943 Painting “Mural”. The board’s communications director, Sheila Doyle, confirmed to me today that the sale is definitely not going to happen and will not even be discussed at the Regents’ upcoming meeting, because “it’s a done deal” (perhaps better described as a done “no-deal”).

Secondly, notwithstanding commentators’ misreading of the above-linked report, Sotheby’s NEVER initiated contacts with the University of Iowa about selling any works from its museum’s collection. It was the other way around. There WAS a Sotheby’s proposal, as the report states, but it was provided in response to a request by the former director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

For this and more information about the post-flood situation at the museum, here’s my Q&A with its director, Pam White:

Rosenbaum: Who issued the report related to questions about selling the Pollock?

White: University President Sally Mason presented this report to the Iowa Board of
Regents. It was prepared with help from the UI Museum of Art and the UI
School of Art and Art History, among other University offices.

Rosenbaum: When was it issued?

White: President Mason gave the report to the regents on Sept. 30
and they made it public on Oct. 3.

Rosenbaum: Did Sotheby’s initiate the contact about the Pollock and Max Beckmann‘s “Triptych,” as has been charged, or was the contact initiated by the university?

White: The
contact was initiated by the former director of the UI Museum of Art.

Rosenbaum: Is the possible sale of the Pollock (or any other art owned by the
university) still under consideration?

White: My understanding…is that
the board has decided the painting is too valuable to be sold….As far as other works being sold, that idea had not
been broached by the Regents and I do not think it will be after the
incredible public outcry against the idea of selling “Mural.”

Rosenbaum: Is there anything else we should know about the how the university’s
flood recovery efforts will affect the museum, and what the future of the
museum will be, going forward? What is the status of your efforts to
move to a new facility and of temporary plans to show some of the
collection elsewhere?

White: The University’s recovery efforts will most certainly affect the Museum.
We already know that we are not going back into our previous building.
That space is already being repurposed and used for rehearsal space for
large music ensembles who desperately needed the space as their own
building will likely not be reopened for two years. The University now
faces the challenge of reevaluating its interaction with the river over
all the campus, and in particular the arts campus, which was one of the
areas hardest hit by the flood.

The Museum of Art will certainly be a
part of that big picture as the University moves forward. In the meantime, we are working with other campus units to find space
to bring some of the Museum’s collection back so it can be available for
use for students in classes. Just last week we had some success in this
effort: Nearly 250 works on paper, mostly prints, arrived on Wednesday
from Chicago. The UI Libraries Special Collections was able to find room
to store these works in their already secure, climate-controlled space
in the UI Mail Library.

Already, on Thursday, the first class, “History of Prints,” was able to come to the classroom in Special
Collections and view the works for their class. It was quite a
wonderful thing! Now, we’re thinking ahead to finding a larger
exhibition space for both traveling shows and permanent collection
works. There is a good chance that we will end up in the Iowa Memorial
Union, another building that was damaged by the flood but that is slated
to reopen in the coming months. In the meantime, we have one exhibition
opening this fall in another museum on campus, the Old Capitol Museum
(of which I am also the director).

Rosenbaum: Is there anything else you’d like to say?

White: Just that we greatly appreciate all of the outspoken support we have
received across locally and across the country to prevent the sale of
the Pollock painting.

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