Pollock’s “Mural.” To some, it’s a bunch
of hidden dollar signs.
The University of Iowa and the federal government
are still arguing about who is going to finance
a new art museum to replace the one that was
badly damaged in the flood of 2008. It boils
down to this: The insurers won’t insure art
in a museum on a flood plain. The government
thinks the old museum, which is on a flood plain,
can be rebuilt and will pay for much of that
but won’t pony up for a new one outside the
Insurance is your problem, not ours, the feds
are in effect saying.
The university is arguing with the feds. So
far, the feds are winning. Last month, the Federal
Emergency Management Agency flatly rejected
the university’s second appeal of the original
rejection. Now, the university is considering
suing FEMA, the university’s Doug True told
the Cedar Rapids Gazette last week.
Suing FEMA with one hand while continuing to
hold the other out for money on other projects
— some of which also are in dispute — might
not seem like the best strategy, and one University
of Iowa source said that talk about suing was
supposed to be secret and that True wasn’t expected
to blab to the Gazette. It apparently was discussed
by the Board of Regents in a closed session
last week, though no one is confirming that.
[Trivia: Doug True, the longtime University
of Iowa vice president for finance, is the son
of Elmer P. True, as in E.P. True Parkway. E.
P. True was the longtime West Des Moines city
All this means it will probably be another three
or four years — at least — before a museum is
built and the university’s 12,500 pieces of
art are brought together again in a campus museum.
Some 10,000 of those now are being stored at
the Figge Museum in Davenport, where the university
is paying $18,141.67 a month for exhibition
space, storage, office space, overhead and administration,
according to university figures given to Cityview
in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Over four years, that works out to close to
$1 million to store art, not counting insurance.
The collection is insured for around $500 million,
which costs the university about $200,000 a
year, no matter whether the art is on a wall
in Iowa City or in a basement in Davenport.
At the time of the flood, one piece, Jackson
Pollock’s famous Mural, was valued at $140 million
for insurance purposes by Sotheby’s, the New
York auction house, and it currently is on display
at the Des Moines Art Center, where it will
stay until July 15. That, too, is costing the
The University of Iowa Museum of Art paid $19,179.32
for the removal of the painting from the exhibition
space at the Figge in Davenport and installation
of the painting in the Des Moines Art Center.
The Des Moines Art Center is reimbursing the
university 50 percent of this cost ($9,589.66).
The university art museum paid $12,215 to someone
to design and fabricate a travel frame and crate
to transport the painting. The frame and crate
can be reused, though at the moment there are
no firm plans to take the delicate painting
on the road after the Des Moines showing.
The Des Moines Art Center covered the expense
of the actual transportation costs (movers,
truck, etc.) for moving the painting from the
Figge. The university paid $27,790.50 for transit
insurance while the painting was being moved.
There is no additional cost for insuring the
painting in Des Moines, the university said.
In all, the university is paying about $50,000
to facilitate the display in Des Moines, not
counting the $50,000 or so a year the university
pays to insure the painting, no matter where
A couple of years ago, all hell broke loose
in Iowa City and in the art community when it
was gently suggested the university should explore
selling the painting and using the proceeds
for scholarships. The proceeds could supply
free undergraduate tuition, annually and forever,
to a Regent university for 1,000 needy Iowans.
But university officials — who instead finance
scholarships by skimming 20 percent off everyone’s
tuition bills — and art lovers howled. Some
legislators tried to pass a bill to force the
sale, but some influential art lovers, who collect
politicians as well as art, got that snuffed
out. (One legislator received an impassioned
letter urging him to vote against the legislation
and expressing how important the painting is
to the university. “Pollock” was misspelled
throughout the letter. The letter was from a
faculty member in the art department.)
In response to a request from the Board of Regents,
the university issued a nine-page report on
the painting and its importance. The mural “makes
an important contribution to the Museum’s role
as a teaching resource for students in the university,”
the report said. Despite this importance to
the education of Iowa students, and despite
“the difficulty and inherent dangers of lending
such a large and fragile object,” the painting
was loaned to other museums seven times from
1962 to 1999, spending a total of 2.5 years
in London, Berlin, Paris, New York and other
And, of course, not many people ever ventured
over to the University Museum to see the work
when it was there. From 2003 to 2008, exactly
181,575 people visited the University of Iowa
Museum of Art, school officials reported. That
works out to 36,315 a year, or about half the
number that attend a home football game at Kinnick
Stadium on any given Saturday. Even if you assume
that those 181,575 admissions all were different
people — an absurd assumption — that means that
about 2.8 million Iowans ignored it during that
period. It’s a safe bet that thousands, probably
tens of thousands, of graduates of the university
never knew the painting was there.
At any rate, as Des Moines Art Center visitors
ponder the Pollock, university officials continue
to tilt against the FEMA windmill, state dollars
continue to be spent to store art that no one
is seeing, and — in truth — nothing is being
done to get a new museum built in Iowa City.
One other thing: University officials now are
estimating it will cost around $75 million to
build a new museum, nearly twice what they were
saying a year or so ago. ...
Did George Cataldo, regular contributor to Democratic
candidates, really hold a fundraiser for Tom
Latham the other evening? And was Bill Knapp
Yes and yes. Cataldo is a pal of House Speaker
John Boehner, who was the guest of honor at
the fund-raiser for Republican House candidate
Latham. And Knapp — who finds himself kind of
liking long-time enemy Terry Branstad these
days — was there because “I wanted to meet those
None of that is good news for Leonard Boswell.