Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Looks like a sale of the University of Iowa Museum of Art's Jackson Pollock is once again being discussed. Richard Lacayo and Tyler Green have the latest.

As Lacayo reminds us, there was a "brief uproar" around the painting last August. My posts on that uproar include this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, this one, and, finally, this one.

The interesting twist this time is that one of the arguments that was made against the sale back in August was that the painting belonged to "the people of Iowa" (see. e.g., here). Felix Salmon was never much impressed by that argument (see here). In any event, in this case, at least according to this initial report, it's the people of Iowa, acting through their elected representatives in the state legislature, who seem to be pushing for the sale.

UPDATE: Salmon weighs in on this latest news here. He's changed his mind on the Pollock: he now believes "the museum must be able to hold onto it." If anything is to be sold, "they should be non-core works chosen by the museum to minimize any damage done by the deaccessioning. Anybody setting up an art museum has to let that museum take full control of ... its artworks." They can't "overrule the museum" and sell "key" works.

There are a lot of "musts" in there, but where do they come from? Why must the museum have full control over whether or not a given work is sold? Why can't the university overrule the museum? As important as the Rose is, it is also part of Brandeis University. Don't the people charged with running the school have an obligation to do what they think is best for the university? Where does this principle of autonomy come from, and does it apply only to campus art museums? If a university decides it's in the best interests of the school as a whole to shut down the football program, would we say they can't "overrule the athletic department" and do so? Would we say anybody setting up a football program has to let the coaching staff take full control of the program? Again, I'm not defending the wisdom of Brandeis's decision here. I just think it's strange to say they had no right to make it.