Wednesday, April 4, 2012

It’s an honor for me to be with you tonight for this important celebration of the arts.

First, though, I would like to take a moment and remember two giants in the art world who were members of the University of Iowa family. Yesterday, we were sad to learn that Mauricio Lasansky and Elizabeth Catlett had passed away. Mr. Lasansky was 97, and Ms. Catlett would have been 97 next week. Mauricio Lasansky came to the United States from his native Argentina on a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1943. He spent a year studying at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and in 1945 accepted a teaching job at the University of Iowa, succeeding Grant Wood. Mr. Lasansky established a printmaking department that quickly gained international attention and still today consistently ranks in the top five programs in the country. The Lasansky print innovations include using multiple plates, a full range of colors, and unusual large-scale sizes. He was especially known for The Nazi Drawings, which explored the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Elizabeth Catlett was widely considered to be the most prominent female African-American artist living until we lost her yesterday. In 1940, she received the first MFA in Sculpture from the University of Iowa. At Iowa, Ms. Catlett studied with Grant Wood, who famously trained her to seek inspiration from her own life. Throughout her career, she never wavered from the themes of mother and child, and suffering due to human injustice.

The legacies of Mauricio Lasansky and Elizabeth Catlett will live on in their art, both on our campus and throughout the world. Even so, we mourn their passing, and we extend our deepest sympathies to their families, friends, and colleagues.

The prominence of Lasansky and Catlett indicate the prominence of the arts at the University of Iowa. I am very proud and excited to join you this evening as we present Jackson Pollock’s Mural to the Des Moines community. Mural is the signature piece of our UI Museum of Art collection, and it is certainly one of the most important American paintings of the twentieth century. We are delighted that we have been able to enter into this partnership with the Des Moines Art Center to bring Pollock’s Mural to an even wider Iowa audience. We thank Jeff Fleming and all the museum staff for this tremendous opportunity and collaboration.

We are also extremely grateful to the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, which has been such a wonderful caretaker and steward of this important work since the flood of 2008 displaced it from our campus. When the flood threatened our campus, 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”? Thanks to the foresight, dedication, and expertise of many people, this defining work of art was safely secured and transported away before the water reached the museum building. It will be a number of years before the Pollock finds its way back to a permanent home in Iowa City. But in all tragedy there is opportunity. We have been grateful, as I said, to the Figge Museum for presenting Mural so generously and expertly to so many people in the Quad Cities community and its many visitors.

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. We want as many people as possible to see, know, and be inspired by this cultural treasure. I can’t think of a better place for that to happen than the Des Moines Art Center.

If you have never seen Mural “in person,” so to speak, I think you’ll agree now that the experience can truly be awe-inspiring. This is not simply due to its size or its technique. Those are important, but they serve the possibilities that this iconic abstract work present to us. In an interview with the New Yorker, Jackson Pollock himself said, “Abstract painting is abstract. It confronts you. There was a reviewer a while back who wrote that my pictures didn’t have any beginning or any end. He didn’t mean it as a compliment, but it was. It was a fine compliment. Only he didn’t know it.”

That’s where I think the awe in this painting lies—in its endless possibilities, its lack of a beginning or end. I know you will be swept up in the endless possibilities—the infinity—of Jackson Pollock’s Mural. And I am honored that the University of Iowa is able to bring this unique experience to you in partnership with the Des Moines Art Center.