DETROIT — Detroit is sorting through the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection to see what it could sell to raise funds, the city’s emergency manager said yesterday, touching on a contentious issue in the largest US municipal bankruptcy filing.
“It’s not a high priority” to sell the art, Emergency Manager Keyvn Orr said in an interview with Reuters.
But a detailed evaluation of the 60,000-piece collection is part of a broad review of city assets, including its water and sewage department, Coleman A. Young International Airport and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, he said.
The prospect of putting the museum’s art up for sale has sparked furious debate throughout the city and its suburbs. The museum and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette have said Detroit cannot sell the art because the works are held in a charitable trust for people in Michigan — a position with which the emergency manager disagrees.
Orr said he has never visited the DIA, though he has studied the museum’s art collection, which includes an 1887 self-portrait by Vincent van Gogh and a 27-panel fresco by Mexican artist Diego Rivera.
“I actually took an art history course years and years ago, and the stuff I read about is there,” Orr said.
On Monday the city said it had hired auction house Christie’s to appraise the DIA’s collection. Orr said he would make a decision about what to do with the art after Christie’s completes its review, perhaps by mid-October.
Despite the size of the DIA’s collection, only 5,000 or so works are on display at one time. Orr said about 35,000 works are not subject to bequests or other obligations that would limit the ability to sell them.
“Once we find out what we’re talking about, that’ll probably lead the discussion about what we can and can’t do,” he said. “I’m not being flippant, I’m just being very careful because every time I say something about the DIA it’s another three weeks of, ‘Orr the Luddite is getting ready to sell our family jewels’.”
The city, which owns the DIA collection, and its creditors are discussing ways to restructure $18 billion in debt and unfunded pension liabilities after it filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history last month. (Reuters)