Will Budget Woes Cause the University of Iowa to Sell Its Famed Jackson Pollock Painting?

The school needs the money and the painting is worth $140 million. Should they sell, or hold onto a cultural masterpiece?

Bringing in revenue is a top priority for cash-strapped state colleges these days, but should schools be selling their art collections in order to balance the budget? That's the money-making scheme being proposed by one of Iowa's Republican lawmakers and it's causing major controversy on campus. State Representative Scott Raecker has introduced a bill in the state legislature to sell off the University of Iowa's world-renowned Jackson Pollock masterpiece. According to Raecker, the state can't avoid a tuition increase at the school, so proceeds from the painting's sale can be used to fund scholarships.

The 1943 painting, Mural, is considered one of the most important paintings in modern American art, and it established Pollock as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Wealthy art collector Peggy Guggenheim gave the painting to the university in 1951 when its studio arts program was considered one of the most prestigious. Present-day estimates put its value upwards of $140 million.

Raecker says that kind of money can be used to set up a trust fund that would be impervious to the fluctuations of the state budget, and could potentially generate $5 million a year. He also doesn't believe the painting's currently doing any good for the school since it hasn't been on display there since 2008. That year floods caused extensive damage to the university's art museum, and the painting was sent for display to Chicago and to Davenport, Iowa. Selling the painting was suggested after the floods when the school needed money for water damage repairs. The idea didn't fly with school officials back then, and it's not going over well now.

Sean O'Harrow, the director of the university's art museum says the idea is "ludicrous".

"It's like selling your grandmother. I don't think you can sell your culture. Doing such a thing would only give ammunition to those people who criticize our state as a place where we don't respect or appreciate culture. There is no way that can happen."


Although it's true the school does need the money, maybe there's something right about holding onto parts of our enduring cultural heritage. After all, no matter how bad the French economy gets, we don't see them trying to cash in by putting the Mona Lisa up for sale.

photo via the University of Iowa