Thursday, August 14, 2008

"Mural doesn't belong to 'the people of Iowa' -- it belongs to nobody, or to everybody"

Felix Salmon weighs in on the Iowa Pollock:

"Some paintings belong not to 'the people of Iowa' so much as to the people of the world, and belong in a world-class collection. Which, frankly, the University of Iowa Museum of Art isn't. Remember that the idea was never to simply sell Mural off to the highest bidder; it was to sell it to another museum. And I'm pretty sure there's more than one major US institution which could rustle up a nine-figure sum pretty much overnight if the painting were to come on the market. One of the reasons that contemporary art goes for such huge sums at auction is that nearly all the major art of the past is now in museums and therefore can't be bought for any sum. But there's a corollary to that well-known fact, which is that some of the greatest paintings of all time have washed up in relative backwaters which don't and can't do them justice. . . . [N]ot all museums are equal, and there's surely a case to be made that the greatest of the great masterworks belong in museums which are worthy of them, rather than in small university collections. Mural will, in fact, be arriving at MoMA in 2010, on temporary loan from Iowa. It will consort there with its peers, and take its rightful place in the art-historical pantheon. And then it will go back to the midwest, whence it came, out of sight and far off the beaten track."

He closes:

"Maybe the critics of a sale should stop thinking in terms of 'forced deaccessioning' and start thinking in terms of a great donation by the people of Iowa to the people of America more generally. And as a gesture of thanks I'm sure it would be quite easy to help out the people of Iowa with a couple of hundred million dollars to put towards fixing their flood damage."