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“Portrait of Postmann Roulin” is one of four van Goghs owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts. (photo via Wikipedia)

Yesterday, the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy, making it the largest city to do so and the largest municipal filing, debt-wise, in American history. Then, today, a judge ruled the filing unconstitutional, saying that it violates Michigan state law. Meanwhile, in the parallel unfolding saga of the fate of the city’s art museum, the Detroit Institute of Arts, news has now emerged that representatives of Christie’s called the institution last month, asking for an inventory of artworks, believed to be worth ~$2 billion, and “if appraisers could visit to assess the collection,” the New York Times reports.

That upsetting nugget is buried in a mostly speculative article about what might happen to the collection if the bankruptcy proceedings were to go ahead. Of course, no one knows yet. But as Randy Kennedy and Monica Davey write in the Times, “it is clear that the desire of creditors to determine the collection’s worth will not go away.”

The office of state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr says it did not initiate the appraisal, but spokesman Bill Nowling offered these words:

“We haven’t proposed selling any asset. But we haven’t taken any asset off the table. We can’t. We cannot negotiate in good faith with our creditors by taking assets off the table. And all of our creditors have asked about the worth of the D.I.A. And we’ve told them that they’re welcome to find out.”

And find out they are! Christie’s wouldn’t comment on the matter, but it seems pretty clear that one or more the city’s creditors requested the evaluation. There’s no word on whether the proposed visit actually took place, but if it hasn’t yet, it surely will. With Michigan Governor Rick Snyder calling the DIA’s collection an “asset,” his hand-picked emergency manager blithely reassuring us that he loves art (no doubt because it’s so valuable), and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing pretty much powerless to do anything about it, I’m sure those hungry creditors are feeling very discouraged.

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Jillian Steinhauer

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art...

4 replies on “Should We Be Worried? Christie’s Called Detroit Museum About Its $2bn Collection”

  1. I find this story very interesting. My husband and I own an antique/collectible store in upstate NY. This past year there has been a growing glut of goods entering the market. EVERYTHING is up for sale! It’s crazy. People are coming in out of the woodwork…. coming in and bargaining, cashing in their chips in this depressed region just to get by. It’s the microcosm to the Detroit Museum’s macrocosm, who also seems to find itself in debt and having difficulty in getting by.
    TV has taught us. Sell stuff, you get money. Pawn Stars. Auction Kings. Storage Wars. Texas Storage Wars. Detroit Hardcore Pawn. Salvage Dawgs.
    I do personally see it as the easy way out. Instead of buckling down and working hard, problem solving, co-oping, or whatever! it’s easier to sell the family fortune and get by. I recognize not every situation is the same, but the trend is too big to ignore.

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