Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

August 16, 2013

Detroit's culture for sale?

DETROIT (AP) — A mock “sale” sign was attached for a short time on Rodin’s “The Thinker” at the Detroit Institute of Arts, while others were left on prominent statues downtown at a time when the city tries to place a value on its assets following the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

None of the landmarks are being sold — yet. The tongue-in-cheek signs were the idea of artist Jerry Vile and a group of his friends.

“The situation’s sad,” Vile told the Detroit Free Press. “You might as well laugh at it.”

State-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr has said some city creditors have asked for the value of city-owned assets.

The DIA is considered one of the top art museums in the country and is home to hundreds of paintings and sculptures by Van Gogh, Bruegel the Elder, Renoir and other masters. The city purchased many of the pieces in the collection years ago during more prosperous times.

They could be considered assets in a bankruptcy, a possibility that Orr warned DIA officials about earlier this year. Orr filed for bankruptcy on July 18.

DIA Director Graham Beal told The Detroit News the art museum will sue to block any potential sale of works.

Orr has said the city is insolvent and can’t pay its bills. Detroit has a budget deficit of about $380 million. Long-term debt could be as much as $20 billion.

He has contracted with International auction house Christie’s to appraise some DIA pieces. Christie’s also will assist and advise on valuing the artwork while leaving the pieces in the city’s ownership.

“We are currently in the process of scheduling a meeting with Christie’s to determine how they want to handle this,” museum Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, grounds maintenance workers saw the sign on “The Thinker” outside the art institute’s main entrance. Another “sale” sign was posted outside another part of the building. Both were quickly removed, said DIA spokeswoman Pam Marcil.

“Sale” signs also were left on statues of former mayors Hazen Pingree and William Maybury, a fountain on Detroit’s Belle Isle island park and a trash can in downtown’s Hart Plaza.

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