University of Iowa names Jim Leach as interim art museum director

The former congressman and NEH chair will help planners designing a new facility

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IOWA CITY — Former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach was named Monday as the interim director of the University of Iowa Museum of Art as plans move ahead to unveil a new facility by 2019.

Leach, a Republican who served in Congress for three decades, currently is a UI chair in public affairs and a visiting professor in the College of Law and Department of Political Science.

He also is past chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Serving there for four years after being nominated by President Barack Obama, Leach oversaw an initiative to promote respect for diverse groups in the United States and abroad.

At the time, the NEH also helped launch the National Digital Public Library, a portal to digital collections of books, artwork and artifacts from libraries, museums and cultural institutions.

At the UI, Leach earns $246,500 a year, a figure the UI said will not change with the interim appointment.

He begins the new duties in January, serving as temporary replacement for current Director Sean O’Harrow, who is leaving to lead the Honolulu Museum of Art.

The university has said it will conduct a national search for O’Harrow’s replacement.

As interim director, Leach will oversee the last phases of the international tour of Jackson Pollock’s “Mural,” which the UI owns, and work with planners to design a new UI Museum of Art.

The previous one suffered damage during the historic floods of 2008. Since then, the museum has been in a state of limbo, with its art collection — valued at more than $500 million — on loan throughout the nation and world.

The new museum is expected to cost $50 to $60 million and be complete by 2019.

“As the first university to grant graduate degrees in the creative arts based on the creation of art rather than the writing of a thesis, the University of Iowa has augmented its innovative approach to teaching by amassing one of the finest university collections of art,” Leach said in a statement. “Now it is committed to building a new venue where it can showcase iconic works by artists as diverse as Grant Wood, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miró, Max Beckmann, Robert Motherwell, Marsden Hartley, Philip Guston, Juan Gris, Stuart Davis, Mark Rothko, Fernand Léger, Franz Marc, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Hannah Höch, Lyonel Feininger, Georges Braque, Giorgio De Chirico, Gabriele Münter, Robert Arneson, and Mauricio Lasansky.”

In a news release, the UI said Leach has a long-standing interest in art.

His wife, Deba, currently is a doctoral candidate in the Art History Division of the UI’s School of Art and Art History and has written books on Grant Wood and Jacob Lawrence. Together, the Leaches have donated several hundred works of art to the UI. Leach has also conveyed his public and family papers to the UI Library.

The university said under the new duties, Leach will devote half his time to directing the art museum, and a quarter of his time to each the law college and political science visiting professorships.

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