Friday, August 8, 2008

Save Art Now!

The Iowa Board of Regents is apparently serious about valuing the famous work by Jackson Pollack, Mural to see if it worth considering selling it to cover flood damage. The painting is estimated to be worth anywhere between $100-150 million and it the absolute centerpiece of the University of Iowa's Art collection.

In the wake of the devastating flooding across much of Eastern Iowa this summer, no one place on the University of Iowa was more hard hit than the art campus. Situated along the River, the Art, Music and Theater programs were tucked away on a scenic, idyllic area along the banks of the Iowa River. No one could have anticipated the monumental flooding and damage that would follow this summer. Given the extent of the damage, it is in one sense, not surprising to see the Regents considering selling the crown jewel, Mural to cover flood damage. On the face of it, given what they're up against, you could almost see a degree of understanding as to what Michael Gartner is pushing.

But the long term future of the Arts Campus has to be considered. The print school at the University of Iowa is one of the best in the nation. Virginia Meyers, whom I have had the great privilege of meeting invented the medium of foil printing and the University helped to develop new technology to advance the medium- they still hold the patents. Mauricio Lasansky, famed artist responsible for the dark Nazi Drawings helped break print out of smaller dimensions by championing and helping to develop intaglio or large scale printing. The print school alone demands some greater degree of forethought from the Iowa Board of Regents, but as usual, bureaucrats tend to look for quick fixes to long term problems.

It seems, as anyone familiar with the University of Iowa can attest too, that the Regents hold allegiance to one thing: money. The Hospital and the Football Program suck everything up. Regents pony up cash after cash to keep the Hospital expanding to ridiculous sizes and to polish up Kinnick Stadium until it shines. The extent of their splurging is such that there is a very real possibility that some day, Kinnick Stadium could be the only football stadium in the country hemmed in on three sides by a Hospital. But who can blame the Regents? The sad state of higher education leaves administrators with harsh choices- they have to follow the money and athletics takes precedent over academics too many times.

But this is one time where the trend has to be broken. Enough is enough. Art may not bring in gobs of money to the University, but the Art School is one of the quietly overlooked gems of the University of Iowa. It deserves to be protected and rebuilt better than ever- and having been gutted and devastated already, it is beyond unfair for the Regents to even consider excising the heart of the University's art collection for the cheap reward of mere money. Like athletics and the hospital, art relies on quality institutions and collections to attract the best talent it can from around the country. The Pollack, therefore is integral to its future success and long term prospects of the Arts Campus as a whole. It would beggar belief to see the Regents considering a sale of say, Kinnick Stadium to pay for flood recovery- though given the dismal performance both on and off the field of the Iowa Football team, perhaps they should consider it- but such a move would be shouted down with vigor. The Pollack, although it may seem like no more than a few swirls of paint to many people, is the Kinnick Stadium of the Arts Program.

Given the disruption to the art program, it's entirely probably that many thesis and undergraduate students might be forced to transfer or drop out entirely. Retaining and drawing back these students demands the continuation of quality professors, quality facilities and a collection unparalleled in the Big Ten.

The Regents may only be guilty of the crime of wanting to consider all the options, even the foolish ones- but their allegiance has to be to more than quick fixes and money. They have an obligation to protect both the bottom line and ensure the quality programs and academics at all levels and area continue to excel at the University of Iowa and other state institutions in Iowa. And by pushing the notion of selling the Pollack, they are demonstrating that their interests and abilities are sadly deficient to the massive challenge facing the state of Iowa and the University community in the months and years ahead.

**For those of you on Facebook, join the fight to save art now!


University of Iowa Museum of Art said...

Hi Tom: Great post and Facebook group -- keep it up!

Jeanne said...

Hi Tom
I would like to suggest an another view and alternative solution that could be doubly productive. Sell the Pollack, use the $100 million+ to purchase as many wind generators
as possible - take the university off the grid and use the energy $$ savings to repair the flood damages and use the money saved year after year to do more good for the community - like buying more wind generators... sell the painting to a large metropolitan area - Chicago Art Museum would keep it within traveling distance in the midwest - where more people can get to see it more often. Everyone wins...