October 1, 2022

Reviews | “Mural” is worth more than dollars

Artist Jackson Pollock’s “Mural” is valued at $140 million. Should the UI sell the famous painting?


Hanging in the Stanley Museum of Art at the University of Iowa is a huge 8-by-20-foot oil canvas, “Mural,” by the late artist Jackson Pollock.

When I saw Pollock’s painting, I was disappointed. Although the painting is impressive in size, few other elements seemed remarkable. Arbitrary motions of lemon yellow, red, teal and ombre blend into each other, forming neither clear objects nor scenes.

“Mural” has been valued at $140 million. The debate over whether Pollock’s painting should stay on the UI or be sold has raged for several years. For some, selling “Mural” is an opportunity to support art elsewhere. But for others, “Mural” is worth more than dollars.

Paul Jackson Pollock was born in Cody, Wyoming in 1912. Pollock spent his youth studying art under artists Frederick John Vrain Schwankovsky and Thomas Hart Benton. Pollock is remembered as an influential figure in the abstract expressionist movement, best known for his “drip technique”.

In 1943, American socialite and art collector Peggy Guggenheim commissioned Pollock to create a mural for her townhouse. This command is the now known “Mural”.

Guggenheim donated the “Mural” to UI in 1951. UI loaned the painting to museums around the world, attracting over 2.5 million visitors. After a two-year restoration and technical study, the board is now back in Iowa City.

“Mural” is no stranger to negative public attention. For years people have believed that Pollock painted “Mural” in a frantic night after staring at the blank canvas for months. It was only recently that experts debunked this myth, citing that the painting was made over a series of months.

In Iowa, “Mural” has been a subject of financial debate for years.

In 2011, former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Scott Raecker proposed a bill to sell the painting.

House Study Bill 84 proposed, “The State Board of Regents shall provide for the sale of Jackson Pollock’s painting, ‘Mural,’ held by Iowa State University.

The bill proposed that royalties from the sale be credited to a trust fund to provide scholarship for undergraduate students majoring in art at UI.

While this bill was closed, many Iowans worried about the future of Pollock’s painting.

Artist and former UI student Deborah Stein said the “mural” belongs to the UI campus.

“I think the paint should be here as a tool to show art students what art looks like,” Stein said. “What a completely passionate artist can create. It is much more than a monetary value.

During a visit to the Stanley Museum of Art, I spent some time with “Mural” trying to better understand the value of the painting. It resonated with me.

“I don’t think it symbolizes anything.” Stein said. “I don’t think that’s what Pollock’s work was about. It was a movement for self-expression.

“What was the question before this art and what was the curiosity that made them want to continue.” Stein said. “It’s different for every artist. All art, like all poetry or literature, is not a thing. It’s everyone who comes from a different place and invests in it. That’s what makes this piece so powerful.

Despite my feelings around “Mural,” I’m proud to have this piece of art on UI campus. “Mural” is more than a canvas – it’s a movement. Pollock’s painting shows what art is, in life and on canvas.

The UI should keep “Mural” on campus for future generations. Pollock’s work is worth more than its price.


The columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations with which the author may be involved.