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“This is like the weighing of souls.”
August 20, 2013 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Christie's Auction House is set to appraise The Detroit Institute of Art's holdings as part an accounting of Detroit's assets. According to Art Market Monitor, the danger of the appraisal now taking place ... is that it will reveal a much greater value than the $2.5bn bandied about recently. Todd Levin, a Detroit-born art adviser and director of the Levin Art Group in New York, said the value of the museum’s entire 60,000-piece collection would have to be significantly higher — “at least in the low to mid-11 figures, In other words, at least $10 billion to $20 billion. (Previously)
posted by R. Mutt (61 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
This reminds me of a scene in Kill Bill 2:
BILL: You pawned a Hattori Hanzo sword?
BUDD: Yep.
BILL: It was priceless.
BUDD: Not in El Paso it ain't. In El Paso I got me 250 Dollars for it.
I don't know what the right thing to do is here. But something has to give when you're sitting on 11billion in art but can't manage to provide basic services to your residents. If I thought Congress would ever in a million years go for it I'd propose the feds buy the art and lease it to cities, including Detroit, at very good rates. Hell, it could be a win win for everyone in the long run. But Congress hates everything that has to do with art or Detroit so this would never happen because reasons.
posted by Justinian at 1:31 PM on August 20, 2013 [30 favorites]


Well it's not so much the residents not getting basic services (which of course, they aren't) as the pensioners in Detroit.

But the sad fact is Detroit and everyone losing public access to these works, most of which will be broken up and fall into private collections.
posted by resurrexit at 1:33 PM on August 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


This is awful, and probably a preview of what's coming for many other US cultural institutions. The nadir of the Era of Monetized Decline is going to be heartbreaking for anyone that cares about the arts, I suspect.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:34 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


....what do you mean "going to be"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:35 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I thought Congress would ever in a million years go for it I'd propose the feds buy the art and lease it to cities, including Detroit, at very good rates. Hell, it could be a win win for everyone in the long run.

The long run is a chump's game, when you're in congress and your term is 2 or 6 years. Government has shown itself to be rather bad at planning for the mid-term to long-term future.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:37 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


....what do you mean "going to be"?

I don't think we're anywhere close to the worst of this yet.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:37 PM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Money is truth, truth money,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
posted by gwint at 1:40 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in France.
posted by furtive at 1:41 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of this, bear in mind, is the brainchild of Detroit's un-Democratically appointed city manager. When your half-assed 'emergency' fails, make sure to loot the place before you go.
posted by Sequence at 1:43 PM on August 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


So I should plan my trip to DIA sooner rather than later, I take it?
posted by rocket88 at 1:51 PM on August 20, 2013


The word 'looting' comes up over and over again in articles about Detroit, from the most literal to the most figurative of meanings.

In an age of knowledge industries, high-speed broadband and skyrocketing real estate values in the worlds' major cities, Detroit's once-glorious buildings should be incredibly desirable. The shuttered and often looted office buildings are irreplaceable examples of a time when money flowed freely -- neither the trees nor the workmanship even exist anymore to create the interiors of some of these places. Instead they're rotting and/or looted, literally (people break in and scrag the place for relatively valueless but easily sold scrap) or figuratively, as in officially selling it off on the cheap.

America has a really messed up attitude. We don't take care of anything; not anything we own or rely on, not even our own health. I am so fucking depressed.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:52 PM on August 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


Justinian: I don't know what the right thing to do is here. But something has to give when you're sitting on 11billion in art but can't manage to provide basic services to your residents.

resurrexit: Well it's not so much the residents not getting basic services (which of course, they aren't) as the pensioners in Detroit.


Peter Schjeldahl offered a defense of the proposed sale along these lines in The New Yorker, and then retracted it after Detroiters and national arts press piled on him. The problem with viewing the sale of the works as the lesser of two evils here is that none of the profits from the sale of the art are actually going to go to the pensioners, or to turn the streetlights back on. They'll go to the city's creditors. Meanwhile, the city will continue to accrue debt under its emergency manager. Selling the art to balance the books for a moment does nothing to solve the administrative problems that brought this all about.

The city (and those who remain there) would be left with an impoverished cultural institution. This is an enormous "F--- YOU" to them, especially as tri-county area residents just voted to pass a ten-year millage to support the DIA last year.
posted by Austenite at 1:53 PM on August 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


To add: This feels to me like the expectation that people will move out of lifelong homes in gentrified neighborhoods because the property happens to be valuable according to the so-called free market. Ignore the value of anything but cash. Blame the poor for not yielding to the rich.

The state and the nation have this on their shoulders, too, but I feel very much that the goal of this is to transfer public property to private hands, not to somehow help Detroit. How did those people end up having access to nice things? We can't have that!
posted by Sequence at 1:55 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with viewing the sale of the works as the lesser of two evils here is that none of the profits from the sale of the art are actually going to go to the pensioners, or to turn the streetlights back on. They'll go to the city's creditors. Meanwhile, the city will continue to accrue debt under its emergency manager. Selling the art to balance the books for a moment does nothing to solve the administrative problems that brought this all about.

Exactly!
posted by resurrexit at 2:01 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


But the sad fact is Detroit and everyone losing public access to these works

The appraisal is not, in itself, a prelude to a sale (that is, they are not being appraised because concrete plans have been put in place to sell them; they are being appraised as part of a general reckoning of the city's "assets"--one that would have taken place regardless of whether or not anyone had previously floated the idea of selling the collection and regardless of whether or not anyone in the process likes the idea). I would say that sale of the works is still fairly unlikely in the long run; any attempt to sell them would certainly be fought in court and it's not clear that anyone has the right to sell them off to pay the city's bills.
posted by yoink at 2:03 PM on August 20, 2013


What's the value of it if it all hits the market at once, though? I'm really not confident that any appraisal represents true market value given the duress under which any sale would be likely to take place.
posted by downing street memo at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I visit the DIA often. It's not that far from me, just an hour, and always worth the trip to spend the day wandering among so many beautiful and important works of art (hello, Rivera murals).

This is a gut-punch.
posted by MissySedai at 2:04 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what to think of this: on one hand, it seems like a truly terrible idea, on the other hand, I've heard arguments that the museum is mostly used by people who don't live in Detroit, so that the city is essentially holding on to an amenity for suburbanites and tourists at the expense of residents, who are hurt if the books aren't balanced. I don't know what to think about that. The whole thing is just baffling and depressing.
posted by Wylla at 2:08 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is a gut-punch.

Again: this does not actually mean that a decision to sell the works has been made. It also does not include all the works which were donated to the museum or whose "ownership" is otherwise arguable. There's good reason to watch all of this nervously and good reason to agitate at State and Federal levels (if you live in Michigan, write to your Senators and your congresspeople) to let them know that the institution is important to their constituents. But you shouldn't regard this as evidence that the DIA is toast.
posted by yoink at 2:09 PM on August 20, 2013


It's a very general problem though, right? All the best museums and hospitals and parks and universities in this country were built by robber barons 100-200 years ago in the industrial urban cores, which is no longer where the majority of people actually live. Most people (especially middle class people) live in suburbs, often 30-40 miles from a former city center. Then you have new cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix which basically are 100% suburb, with few cultural institutions to speak of.

I say put the art on a bus and rent it to less-blessed museums around the country!
posted by miyabo at 2:17 PM on August 20, 2013


I've heard arguments that the museum is mostly used by people who don't live in Detroit, so that the city is essentially holding on to an amenity for suburbanites and tourists at the expense of residents, who are hurt if the books aren't balanced.

You'd think if locals didn't want their museum, or saw it as useless and expensive that they wouldn't have voted for the ten-year millage mentioned upthread. (Of course, that includes suburbanites).
posted by IvoShandor at 2:21 PM on August 20, 2013


Again: this does not actually mean that a decision to sell the works has been made.

My understanding is that Christies offered to appraise the works not to put them on the block but to evaluate the asset so that it can be, monetized and used in a creative way.
Orr, who is trying to restructure the city’s $11.5 billion of unsecured debt and speed up the biggest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history, said the auction house will also advise the city on “non-sale alternatives” for realizing value from the collection.

That could mean the city wants to borrow money while using the highly valuable Van Goghs and Matisses as collateral, Southfield-based bankruptcy attorney Michael Leib said.
The Detroit News

I do not think any works will be sold.
posted by snaparapans at 2:29 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is awful, and probably a preview of what's coming for many other US cultural institutions. The nadir of the Era of Monetized Decline is going to be heartbreaking for anyone that cares about the arts, I suspect.

Thankfully, most of the major American art museums are independent non-profits. The exceptions are the Met (owned by the City of New York), the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution (U.S. government), the de Young Museum (San Francisco), and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (largely independent, but the city owns the actual buildings). If things ever get so bad that New York needs to start deaccessioning the Met, I imagine most art-lovers will be distracted from the heartbreak by the desperate need to tend to their cricket protein farms.

That's not to say that the independent museums can't fail independently, or that cities or their creditors can't lay their mitts on other priceless public services and assets to monetize, privatize, or sell off for nickels. But for the moment, the nation's art collections, and hopefully even the DIA, are safe.
posted by Iridic at 2:33 PM on August 20, 2013


Perhaps we can have th UN come in and administer the city for 50 years?
posted by edgeways at 2:33 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Selling art would be short-sighted for city revenues. They should capitalize on the modern ruins theme and have tours. And urban gardens run by gangsters.
posted by stbalbach at 2:35 PM on August 20, 2013


The exceptions are the Met (owned by the City of New York)

New York owns the land the Met is on (and part of that deal is the free admission thing), but I believe the Met is otherwise a separate entity.
posted by smackfu at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2013


Right you are.
posted by Iridic at 2:50 PM on August 20, 2013


"So I should plan my trip to DIA sooner rather than later, I take it?"

I visited it on my trip back to Michigan a couple months ago. Despite that they were in the process of rotating a couple of wings, I was blown away — it's been about five to ten years since I've been there, and I've been to a lot of other museums (and galleries, etc.) in the meantime. Detroit's collection of 20th Century art is SO GOOD. Seriously, it's better than all three of LA's major museums (Getty, LACMA, MOCA) combined.

Something else that annoyed me, and it came up at a wedding I was at over the weekend, is that there's this perception of Detroit as just a fetid wasteland, when really, Downtown and Midcity, and even most of the suburbs have at most occasional blight. It makes it still remarkable and photogenic, but too often outside of Detroit it's taken as a norm. I mean, sure, like, Brightmoor's fucked, a lot of the first ring of incorporated burbs are fucked, but the core is better than it's been in a while. It's frustrating because, honestly, Detroit hit its nadir during the '80s and has been slowly getting better since. In the '80s, and even into the '90s, Detroit was much more like the stereotype that people hold of it now, but it's like having somebody bust on kids these days because they've all got pagers or some shit.
posted by klangklangston at 2:54 PM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, everyone should read the former state treasurer talking about how the state of Michigan helped bankrupt Detroit.
posted by klangklangston at 2:55 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


New York owns the land the Met is on

And also the building.
posted by Jahaza at 2:57 PM on August 20, 2013


To be fair, it's not like Detroit needs the tourist dollars that this art brings in.

Hamburger.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:00 PM on August 20, 2013



Money is truth, truth money,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

then why so many folks in so many not so wealthy places happy?
Me? I consider the love for my wife and kids also worth "knowing."
posted by Postroad at 3:05 PM on August 20, 2013


America has a really messed up attitude. We don't take care of anything; not anything we own or rely on, not even our own health. I am so fucking depressed.

It is remarkable how marginalized the American citizen has become. Nowhere to work, nothing to vote for, say goodbye to your pension plan.. public education and health care looked upon as government intrusions on the marketplace. Museums being liquidated.

Whatever all of this is for, I hope it's benefiting somebody; I hope they're really happy. Time to watch "Days of Heaven" and cringe at how far we've regressed.
posted by phaedon at 3:28 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever all of this is for, I hope it's benefiting somebody; I hope they're really happy.

Everybody knows where it (and everything else) is going. Quite literally to the top 10% of us. And, yes, they're ecstatic.

The incredible part is that those of us who have been paying attention have known this for more than three decades!
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:44 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The problem with viewing the sale of the works as the lesser of two evils here is that none of the profits from the sale of the art are actually going to go to the pensioners, or to turn the streetlights back on. They'll go to the city's creditors.

Apart from minor differences, I had a sense of déjà vu reading this comment. I'm Greek.
posted by ersatz at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2013


Apart from minor differences, I had a sense of déjà vu reading this comment. I'm Greek.

Skata, all of it, isn't it?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 3:48 PM on August 20, 2013


Benny or Mike? Who knows?

(From what I've read, Duggan looks like the least worst choice, though only because Napoleon is so terrible.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:09 PM on August 20, 2013


What's the value of it if it all hits the market at once, though? I'm really not confident that any appraisal represents true market value given the duress under which any sale would be likely to take place.



Yeah this is something; also, the cost of bringing hundreds of thousands of objects to market is....it's a lot. Photogaphs, inventorying, provenance-checking, insurance....

I doubt they will (all) be sold. But if anything does come to market, the chances of a museum outbidding private collectors on all of the important pieces are slim, I think. Which would be a very sad outcome for art that has been viewed and loved by thousands of people-- wealthy, poor, children, tourists, art haters, art lovers, apathetic teenagers.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:19 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


[T]he cost of bringing hundreds of thousands of objects to market is....it's a lot. Photogaphs, inventorying, provenance-checking, insurance....

According to the article, this appraisal is costing the city $200,000, and that's just for initial forays into those processes.
posted by Austenite at 4:54 PM on August 20, 2013


According to the article, this appraisal is costing the city $200,000, and that's just for initial forays into those processes.

The fact that Detroit is paying is an indication that Christies is not going to get its grubby hands on any consignments from DIA. Even if DIA were to sell one of its top pieces, I guarantee Christies would not be charging a penny for their services.

IMO all these estimates are low. Considering the provenance of these works and the crazy money the Chinese, Mid-east, Russian, Indian et al. collectors are paying for trophies these days... $100Mil seems verrrry low.. I am sure record prices would be set for every treasure sold from the DIA collection.
posted by snaparapans at 5:16 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, given the nature of the high end art market, if these things hit the auction block, money would flow - not that the new owners would be named....
posted by R. Mutt at 5:27 PM on August 20, 2013


there's this perception of Detroit as just a fetid wasteland, when really, Downtown and Midcity, and even most of the suburbs have at most occasional blight.

i did go downtown to john king books this year - aside from being a little empty seeming, it really didn't seem that bad - neither did allen park, dearborn, southgate, etc, although inkster was pretty run down - and melvindale's never been pretty - west on ford rd to canton twp is in fairly good shape

north of 8 mile is fairly thriving although all those apartments in royal oak are starting to look pretty old

but there's all sorts of places in the midwest and indiana that aren't doing well - s cedar in lansing, main st sw of town in elkhart, ne plainfield in g r, lots of places in battle creek, a few in kalamazoo, s e ft wayne and the worst of all, dort hwy in flint - i remember parts of it in the late 60s on the way to a vacation in the thumb and i was shocked at how bad it had become

i'm sure there's worse in detroit - there was in the early 80s - but detroit really doesn't have a monopoly on ruins or half-abandoned highways
posted by pyramid termite at 5:46 PM on August 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


"i did go downtown to john king books this year - aside from being a little empty seeming, it really didn't seem that bad - neither did allen park, dearborn, southgate, etc, although inkster was pretty run down - and melvindale's never been pretty - west on ford rd to canton twp is in fairly good shape"

No, and the real thing that threw me and my girlfriend off was how goddamn helpful and polite everyone was. After several years of being in LA, it was like, wait, you want to give me directions? To a place? Without me asking?

(Inkster's been fucked since Ford.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:05 PM on August 20, 2013


If you take someone--or, say, an organization, or a city--who is already in perilous debt and you give them additional credit secured by, say, their wedding rings, or their vital equipment, or their collection of culturally valuable art? You are not expecting to get cash at the end of the transaction. The idea that it might be used for collateral instead of a sale and this makes it all quite safe is ridiculous.
posted by Sequence at 6:11 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really can't get worked up about this. These artifacts are not going to go into some bonfire. They will be displayed elsewhere. At worst, some of these will be held by private collectors for a while.
posted by ocschwar at 6:37 PM on August 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I cannot believe that the sale of the Detroit collection will really be allowed to happen.
posted by knoyers at 6:47 PM on August 20, 2013


In other news, the Detroit Public School ( a separate entity from the city) just had a bond auction. It was oversubscribed, such that the yield went down from 4.5% to 4.375%. High, but not so high as anticipated.

Interesting times.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:54 PM on August 20, 2013


"I really can't get worked up about this. These artifacts are not going to go into some bonfire. They will be displayed elsewhere. At worst, some of these will be held by private collectors for a while."

I know, you said that last time. Anything new to add, or just another philistine dismissal of Detroit's cultural holdings?
posted by klangklangston at 7:35 PM on August 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a Detroiter who currently lives in Midtown, so I'm about a 20 minute walk away. Personally, I'm not too worried about the possibility of the collection actually being sold. Here is some general knowledge type information about this issue that comes with the cravat that it's local information that everybody knows, yet I don't have a direct referenceable source for:

1) Many of the pieces in the DIA were gifted/willed to the museum with the explicit understanding that they can’t be sold (at all) or given away to a private individual. Whether or not they can be given to another museum is a topic of local debate, but what would be the point in giving away the art when it's money that you're after?

2) Us Detroiters have seen this tactic before. The most recent incarnation was the Selling Of The Zoo Animals débâcle. Basically, the city needed money and threatened to sell off all the animals in the Detroit Zoo. This caused major outrage amongst the middle to upper middle class suburbanites who love to take their kids to the zoo. Eventually, the influential voters screamed loud enough for the state to get involved and bail out Detroit so that the animals no longer needed to be sold.

The scuttlebutt on the streets is that this whole thing is just a scare tactic to get the suburbanites to fight for more funding on behalf of the Detroiters by holding something that they love ransom. I don't mean that in a negative or snaky way. It's an unfortunate yet effective strategy for our city, because frankly, the state government has shown only the most placating desire to listen to the people who actually live in the city, even though we are the ones who have to deal with the frequent power grid shut downs (because the city failed to pay the DTE power bill for a long time, yes that really happens here), virtually non-existent police services, and lack of governmental services.
posted by Shouraku at 8:57 PM on August 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The true value of Detroit isn't in its art. It's in its people.

Think of how much Steve Ballmer, Mitt Romney, Christie Brinkley, or Francis Ford Coppola might fetch at auction!

Seriously though... is there anyone famous from Detroit who didn't leave?
posted by markkraft at 4:19 AM on August 21, 2013


Detroit - $18B debt.
Steve Ballmer: $16.6B net worth.
posted by markkraft at 4:23 AM on August 21, 2013


1) Many of the pieces in the DIA were gifted/willed to the museum with the explicit understanding that they can’t be sold (at all) or given away to a private individual...

True, but the City of Detroit purchased many of the great works in DIA collection: For example

The Wedding Dance, Bruegel; van Gogh, Self Portrait; Rembrandt, The Visitation; Tintoretto, The Dreams of Men; Matisse, The Window; van Eyck, Saint Jerome in his Study; etc..
Here’s the thing about Detroit. DIA is in a unique situation where a substantial amount of the art in the museum was bought by the city itself, not donated as gifts. To date, there’s no indication that the appraisal work being done goes beyond those works bought by the city and not a donation.
Why Detroit’s Art Is Like the Barnes Foundation

And as for the explicit understanding of works that were gifted to the museum, well that has no legal standing, despite the declarations of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The scuttlebutt on the streets is that this whole thing is just a scare tactic to get the suburbanites to fight for more funding on behalf of the Detroiters by holding something that they love ransom.

Yup... we'll see how it plays out..
posted by snaparapans at 6:35 AM on August 21, 2013


"Think of how much Steve Ballmer, Mitt Romney, Christie Brinkley, or Francis Ford Coppola might fetch at auction!"

Coppola was two years old when he moved to NY, so I don't hold that against him much.

And the most famous literary Detroiter died yesterday.
posted by klangklangston at 8:26 AM on August 21, 2013


I believe Eminem still lives in Detroit or suburban Detroit... he is the most famous Detroiter
posted by knoyers at 9:51 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Anything new to add, or just another philistine dismissal of Detroit's cultural holdings?

Mind explaining what is so phillistine about these artworks being displayed elsewhere for a generation?
posted by ocschwar at 10:34 AM on August 21, 2013


Mind explaining why Detroiters don't deserve to preserve their cultural legacy? (Also, the idea that it's just for a generation seems based on a weird assumption that they'd come back.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:23 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mind explaining why Detroiters don't deserve to preserve their cultural legacy?

"Deserve" is a problematic word to use with regard to possession of works of art that have been acquired from all over the world in transactions that often would rarely stand very strict ethical scrutiny and were originally commissioned and paid for often by pretty unsavory characters using money we would be hard-pressed to say they "deserved" to have. I think the stronger arguments are probably pragmatic: the DIA is a unique resource that should be a key part in any ongoing plan for the continued vitality of the city. Selling its collection seems like an obvious "eating the seed corn" response to the current crisis.

And that is to leave aside the question of whether they have a legal right to sell any of this stuff: a question sure to be subject to some pretty vigorous litigation should anyone try to move ahead with a sale.
posted by yoink at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2013


If I were Detroit, I would consider the merits of selling works on their own terms to other museums, ideally in sharing agreements with them. Yes, they city owes its creditors, but AFAIK, they are not obligated to hold a full-blown fire sale to settle the debts. Odds on, the museum has large backlogs of worthy art that it doesn't show regularly anyway.

Wouldn't owning 1/3rd of a Van Gogh self portrait would be enough?!

Also, I think suggesting that paying off Detroit's creditors wouldn't help the people in the city overlooks the fact that a substantial portion of Detroit's debt are to lots of ordinary people living in the city, not to mention its businesses. Really, it's more like this, with a run on the bank.

There's an easy way to resolve this matter, I guess... Just let Detroit's pensioners lose their life savings, while defaulting on billions to soon-to-be shuttered local businesses. (sigh)

So, you were saying that Detroit should be too proud to sell its art, again?!
posted by markkraft at 2:28 PM on August 21, 2013


"So, you were saying that Detroit should be too proud to sell its art, again?!"

No, I was saying that it was dumb, short-sighted, unlikely to fix the problem, and symptomatic of a philistine war against cultural holdings. And I'm saying that I'm more than a little annoyed at the blithe disregard for Detroit and idiotic pronouncements from folks who normally wouldn't be caught dead sharing a closet with the National Review. I'm fucking sick of the contempt for Detroit, and think most of the "solutions" that are offered by outsiders are the nattering of nabobs.
posted by klangklangston at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm possibly stating the obvious, but to a person living in the city, the selling of our artworks just seems like a really poor quality band-aid.

The city is to a point where nothing short of a major overhaul of government and physical infrastructure is going to fix it. Very large portions of the city have virtually no public services. This includes things like basic police services where a fire fight can break out (much more rare than you would imagine) and the police wont be able to respond until the next day, if at all. Though admittedly, we still have pretty good EMS services if someone is actually injured. Hell, buildings periodically catch fire, and if it's confirmed that there's no one inside, many times the firemen will just let it control burn to the ground instead of risking sending fire-fighters in/near an abandoned house, while is most of them, and which I agree with by the way.

I don't say this as an insult of my place of birth and home, but to emphasize that even if you had piles of money to rebuild the entire city, it would still take many years to fix all the destruction, decay, poverty, and virtual lack of government. So when I hear things like "pension loss" and "death of local business" I feel compelled to mention that simply selling off the works of art wont be enough. Maybe it will save pensions, services, and businesses for the moment, but give it a year or two at maximum and we'll be in the same situation that we're in now, and we only have so much stuff that's worth selling once the art runs out.

Mind explaining what is so phillistine about these artworks being displayed elsewhere for a generation?

Not an argument against this point, but my personal view from the inside is that it would take more than a generation to repair this city, and we have no guarantee that we could get any of the art back even if we did.
posted by Shouraku at 3:40 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don Zaretsky at Art Law Blog, recaps Salon's Hands off Detroit’s final treasures!

Harvard bankruptcy professor Adam Levitin on whether creditors can force the liquidation of the DIA collection. He expands upon it at Salon.com, where he makes three central points.

First, he argues that the collection "should be off-limits for the city’s creditors. If Detroit is to be rebuilt, it needs a cultural base, not just an economic base. ... Proximity to cultural treasures is ... part of what makes living in a city attractive and part of the package Detroit needs to attract businesses and tourism. Letting creditors liquidate the city’s cultural patrimony would doom Detroit to a stillborn restructuring, the ultimate in penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions."

Second, he points out that, unlike with a personal- or corporate-bankruptcy, "bankruptcy law has no provision that requires cities to sell their assets to satisfy creditors." So Detroit cannot be forced to sell the art. If the Michigan Legislature passes legislation affirming the attorney general's "non-binding opinion" that the art is off limits to creditors, then it cannot be sold in bankruptcy. Period.

And third -- and this, I think, is really a crucial point -- while the "creditors may complain that it is unfair for the city to hold on to a valuable asset while not paying them in full," the truth is that "liquidating the art collection would represent a giant windfall for creditors. No creditor ever relied on being able to seize the DIA collection when extending credit to the city."
posted by snaparapans at 12:49 PM on August 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


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