Detroit Institute of Art’s Collection at Risk
Auguste Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Thinker’ is shown outside the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, Tuesday, July 10, 2012. / Paul Sancya/Associated Press [source]
City finances are really bad in Detroit and a once-sacred cow is now looking like cheeseburgers in an ongoing downturn economy. This has led to an unprecedented area of inquiry about ownership of and leveraging as assets valuable historical works in the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection:
The possible forced sale of some of the DIA’s greatest treasures — including some of the world’s most famous paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, and scores of other masterpieces, is sending shock waves through the museum world.
“There would be hue and cry the likes of which you’ve never heard,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C. “The museum should be a rallying point for the rebirth of Detroit and not a source of funds.”
Museums are not required by federal accounting rules to list their collections as assets. However, at the request of the Free Press, art dealers in New York and metro Detroit reviewed a list of 38 of the greatest masterpieces owned by the museum and estimated a market value of at least $2.5 billion with pieces such as Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” and Matisse’s “The Window” all carrying estimates of between $100 million and $150 million each.
The estimates amount to educated guesses, however, because works of such historical value and quality hardly ever come on the market.
Even by considering selling off artwork, Orr, the DIA and the city are entering uncharted territory. Art law experts said that they were unaware of any precedents of a city being forced to sell works in a municipal bankruptcy.
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