Monday, March 10, 2014
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California
[Timothy Potts, Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum, introduces President Mason.]
Thank you, Timothy, and I join you in thanking all of the remarkable people of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute, and those who have supported this historic project. I am honored and delighted to join UI Museum of Art Director Sean O’Harrow and the rest of my Iowa colleagues here at the Getty Museum to celebrate the new life you have given to this incredible and historic painting, and to thank you for the masterful work you have done to ensure that generations well into the future will be inspired by this significant work of art.
This amazing project was actually born out of tragedy. In the summer of 2008, the University of Iowa campus experienced its greatest natural disaster in its history: a historic flood of the Iowa River that damaged or destroyed our entire arts campus. Fortunately, we were able to save 99% of the value of our Museum of Art collection, including the Jackson Pollock Mural. This painting has long been the centerpiece of the museum’s world-renowned collection. And the University of Iowa has a long history of excellence and innovation in the arts. We awarded the first Master of Fine Arts degrees, and our art school has boasted such student and faculty talents as sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, printmaker Mauricio Lasansky, and, of course, painter Grant Wood. It was this legacy and reputation that led Peggy Guggenheim to choose the University of Iowa as the home of Pollock’s Mural. She identified Iowa as having one of the most forward-thinking and advanced arts programs in the country, and it came to our collection in 1951. We have been grateful for Ms. Guggenheim’s generous gift ever since.
For over fifty years, Mural inspired generations of students and museum visitors on our Iowa campus. When the flood threatened, there was much, much to be concerned about as the river waters spilled their banks. Even so, I know that uppermost in many people’s minds was, “What will happen to the Pollock”?
No one would have asked for the tragedy of the flood to hit our campus. But wonderful opportunities have arisen from the circumstances of the last six years. We have been extremely grateful to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa, which agreed to be and has been a wonderful caretaker and steward of much of our collection, including Mural, since the flood of 2008 displaced it from our campus and where it was on exhibit from 2009 to 2012.
The wonderful thing about this was that in the course of those three years, many, many more people were able to see and enjoy this historic work. Our primary mission at the university is to discover and share knowledge with the broadest possible public. That includes the knowledge and inspiration possible from experiencing a great masterwork of art. Bringing Pollock’s Mural to a wider audience, then, is exactly what we are all about at the University of Iowa. Mural at the Figge broadened its audience significantly. And in the months before the Pollock traveled here to California, we were delighted to partner with the Des Moines Art Center to bring Mural to an even wider Iowa audience in our state’s capital city.
As we moved the Pollock out of our art museum before the flood hit, what we really knew was confirmed. Mural was in need of conservation intervention. So in 2009, we invited Getty Conservation Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum experts to Iowa to assess the condition of the painting. This partnership and collaboration has yielded spectacular results.  Although the painting has been out of public view for going on two years now, the Getty’s phenomenal historical, scientific, and conservation efforts have opened up many, many new doors of this cultural treasure. Not only has the painting been restored to its original glory, but we also now have an even deeper understanding of Mural’s composition and place in art history. We all have gained much new knowledge, again one of our primary missions as a university, and now we are pleased and proud to share that new knowledge with the public, also one of our primary missions. I am delighted that the folks here at the Getty and their colleagues, who have achieved such remarkable results, are the first to present the restored Pollock Mural to the public and to share the new knowledge that we have gained.
The University of Iowa is proud to share this masterpiece with you here in California, and we cannot thank you enough for being able to bring back such a magnificent restoration to Iowa. We will continue sharing the magic of the Pollock with a wider audience, though, before we bring it back to our campus. When Mural leaves here in June, it will go to the Sioux City Art Center in western Iowa until April 2015, where more citizens of our state and region and other visitors can enjoy and learn from the endless possibilities of this historic work.
Down the road, we will have a new Museum of Art building on our campus.  That may be off into the future a bit, but I look forward to the day that Mural comes home to our campus. And when this artistic monument is rehung on our campus, we will continue to remember and be grateful to the Getty Conservation Institute and the J. Paul Getty Museum for all the new knowledge you have discovered, the magnificent restoration, and the expert conservation that will ensure that generations to come will experience, appreciate, and enjoy “the Pollock,” as we call it back home, in all its glory.
From all of us at the University of Iowa, thank you.