As Detroit Struggles With Bankruptcy, Auction House Appraises Prized Art Collection

Midwest
Thursday, August 8, 2013
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Detroit Institute of Art. (quick fix via flickr)

Detroit Institute of Art. (quick fix / flickr)

Even as Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy reverberates among residents and onlookers alike, the city’s art scene shines on.

Unfortunately for the Detroit Institute of Art, red ink may yet claim its city-owned collection. This week the museum confirmed Christie’s Appraisals had been hired to appraise a portion of the cultural institution’s holdings. But an appraisal is not a sale.

The city’s art collection includes work by Rodin, Van Gogh, and Cézanne. The museum denied the possibility of a fire sale, saying in a statement:

We continue to believe there is no reason to value the collection as the Attorney General has made clear that the art is held in charitable trust and cannot be sold as part of a bankruptcy proceeding. We applaud the [Emergency Manager]’s focus on rebuilding the City, but would point out that he undercuts that core goal by jeopardizing Detroit’s most important cultural institution.

Christie’s, too, deflected scrutiny of what many perceived as the beginning of the end for a proud collection of art. “We understand that a valuation of all the City’s assets (extending well beyond the art) is one of the many steps that will be necessary for the legal system to reach a conclusion about the best long term solution,” they said in a separate statement, adding their goal is to advise on “how to realize value for the City while leaving the art in the City’s ownership.”

The auction house’s assessment doesn’t mean all or even any of the 60,000-piece collection will be sold or even leased (some are off-limits anyway if their original benefactor stipulated they can never be sold). Assessment would be the first step in a such a process, but it could also mean Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is just showing creditors that all options are on the table. Financial experts speculated to The Christian Science Monitor that sales of city land or infrastructure, such as its sewer system, could be better bets.

Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy is the biggest by far in U.S. history, so Orr’s decisions—whatever they may be—are anyone’s guess, and will doubtless be the subject of intense scrutiny.

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