ARTnewsletter Archive

Iowa Drops Plans for Possible Pollock Sale

The Board of Regents of the State of Iowa announced that it will no longer consider a possible sale of Jackson Pollock’s Mural, 1943, an 8-by-20-foot painting in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which has been valued at as much as $150 million (ANL, 9/2/08).

NEW YORK—The Board of Regents of the State of Iowa announced that it will no longer consider a possible sale of Jackson Pollock’s Mural, 1943, an 8-by-20-foot painting in the collection of the University of Iowa Museum of Art, which has been valued at as much as $150 million (ANL, 9/2/08).

Following the board’s Oct. 3 meeting, during which it reviewed a nine-page report on the painting, board president David Miles issued a statement thanking the university for providing the information and announcing that the report “concludes the Board’s inquiry into the matter.”

Sheila Doyle, a spokesperson for the Board of Regents, confirmed that it is no longer exploring the possibility of a sale.

The report includes detailed information on the history and background of the painting, its relation to the university museum and its importance as a teaching tool. According to the report, the museum’s art collection is insured for $500 million, at an annual cost of $181,476.50, of which it estimates the cost of insuring the Pollock accounts for $51,000.

Pollock was commissioned by collector Peggy Guggenheim to paint Mural for the entry hall of her New York apartment. When she left for Italy in 1947, Guggenheim loaned the painting to the Yale University Art Gallery, and in 1948 offered the work to the University of Iowa, likely because she was acquainted with Iowa professor Lester Longman, according to the report. The University of Iowa did not have a museum of art until 1969.

According to the report, Guggenheim “did not articulate specific conditions” for the loan, but “she expressed her intent clearly through a series of letters over the years, which suggested that UI return Mural to her when she heard rumors that the painting was not being treated with the respect it deserved.”

In a 1963 letter to then president Virgil Hancher, Guggenheim wrote: “I have recently been informed that there are rumors in Iowa to the effect that you are about to ship the large Pollock to Sotheby’s [sic] in London to be sold at auction. . . . If you no longer wish to have this mural in your University I must ask you to return it to me, so that I can [have it] in my museum here in Venice or give it to some other museum in the states.”

Under the guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the American Association of Museums (AAM), university galleries and museums are not permitted to use deaccessioning as a tool to raise funds for operating costs. Members who do so risk losing accreditation, compromising their ability to borrow works of art and to receive grants to fund exhibitions and programs.

Last summer the University of Iowa campus sustained an estimated $231 million in flood damage—including $4 million in damage to its art museum and about $12 million in damage to its three-year-old, prize-winning Art Building West, designed by architect Steven Holl. Most of the 13,000 works in the museum collection were evacuated to an undisclosed location in Chicago and were not damaged.

In early August, the Iowa State Board of Regents said it would conduct a study to appraise the value of the Pollock, a decision that drew the ire of museum and university staff, as well as criticism from AAMD president Michael Conforti, who is director of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass. (The University of Iowa museum is not currently a member of the AAMD, but it is accredited by the AAM.)

The recent report also included information about previous inquiries and proposals regarding the Pollock. According to the report, in 2007, a year before the flood, Sotheby’s drew up a draft proposal—in response to a request from former museum director Howard Collinson—suggesting that it “offer Mural for sale for a period of 120 days at a purchase price that would result in payment to the University of an amount not less than $150,000,000.”

An unnamed Sotheby’s representative held a preliminary meeting with Collinson, who forwarded the draft proposal to Nancy Willis, the chair of the museum advisory board, and others. “The Museum’s Advisory Board recommended strongly against selling Mural,” the report states. The university’s provost at the time “did not approve the deaccession, and the University did not further pursue the matter with Sotheby’s.”

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