The most important piece in the University of Iowa’s art collection, the massive 1943 masterpiece lost its permanent home at the UI Museum of Art to the Floods of 2008. It will return to Iowa City when the new facility, still in the design phase, opens downtown, far from the Iowa River’s reach.
In the meantime, the massive work of art will travel abroad as an ambassador for modern art, art conservation efforts, the UI and the state of Iowa. On display at the Sioux City Art Center through April 10, the painting will travel to Venice, Italy, that month for the first stop on its European tour. It will move to Berlin in late 2015, Malaga, Spain, in spring 2016, then London before returning to America, where it will be exhibited in various sites until the new UI museum opens.
Drama has followed “Mural” since heiress Peggy Guggenheim commissioned young, unknown artist Pollock to create the 8-foot-by-20-foot oil painting for the entrance hall of her five-story New York City town house. Pollock signed an unusual one-year contract ensuring a $150 monthly stipend and his first one-man show.
A 1945 review in The New Republic magazine deemed the piece “an almost incredible success.”
Now insured for $140 million, the complex swirls of color that Pollock described as a “stampede ... (of) every animal in the American West, cows and horses and antelopes and buffaloes” is considered the beginning of abstract art in America.
Part of a spring 1947 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Guggenheim then loaned the painting to the Yale University Art Gallery. Yale declined to add the painting to its permanent collection, so in 1948, Guggenheim donated it to UI, home to a pioneering program in modern art. It arrived in October 1951, where it has become a star and is now the most famous painting in Iowa, according to Sean O’Harrow, UI museum’s executive director.
“The reason it is in Iowa is not an accident,” he says. “It’s a direct consequence of research and expertise at Iowa on art and how art is used in education. ... It was also the first university to offer a graduate degree in painting.”
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The striking work hung in the UI School of Art, then the main library before finding its home in the UI museum. Then came the Floods of 2008, which decimated the UI arts campus. All 12,000 pieces of the UI’s art collection were moved just hours before floodwaters hit.
“Mural” has been on the move ever since, from the Figge Museum in Davenport and the Des Moines Art Center to the Getty Center in Los Angeles, where from 2012 to 1214, the masterpiece was studied, restored, cleaned and conserved. Those efforts drew worldwide interest and dispelled myths about everything from Pollock’s techniques and paints to the rumor that he painted it in a daylong frenzy.
Curiosity about the seminal work drew “hundreds” of art experts from around the world to aid in research and restoration. When the painting went on exhibit from March 11 to June 1, it drew 300,000 visitors, shattering the Getty’s attendance record.
“This is international attention that money can’t buy,” O’Harrow said as the restoration process neared completion.
Now international audiences will see the fruits of everyone’s labors.