Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 5, 2013

Report: Detroit-bought art worth as much as $870M

JEFF KAROUB Associated Press
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — DETROIT (AP) — City-bought works at the Detroit Institute of Arts have an estimated value roughly between $450 million and $870 million, according to an appraisal conducted by New York auction house Christie’s.

Christie’s disclosed the estimate in a release on Wednesday announcing it submitted a preliminary report to Detroit’s state-appointed emergency manager, Kevyn Orr. The auction house says the included art represents about 2,780 works, or 5 percent of the museum’s 66,000-piece collection.

The city paid the auction house $200,000 to appraise the collection. A judge Tuesday ruled Detroit is eligible to fix its finances in bankruptcy, and some creditors seek a role in determining whether art could be used to raise money.

The auction house said later this month it will release a report recommending five alternatives to selling the art that could generate value. Orr said Tuesday he doesn’t know if the city will try to sell art or come up with another way to raise money off art, which he said cannot solve the city’s pension problems.

Christie’s said the values provided are not auction estimates, which are price ranges auction house affix to a work at the point of sale “to attract maximum bidding interest.” Fair market values, it said, represents the price at which a piece of art would change hands between a buyer and seller in a relevant marketplace.

The idea of selling the art provokes strong reactions. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has said that city-owned DIA pieces can’t be sold and the artwork is held in charitable trust for Michigan residents, but workers and retirees have countered that it shouldn’t be spared at the expense of their pensions.

“Why are just the city workers taking cuts?” said Charles Rittenhouse, 57, a mechanic on the city’s garbage trucks. “They should do cuts across the board. I have no problem with them selling some of the art. I can’t see selling all of it. What is a piece of art compared to me feeding my family? To my well-being? And just think about the older people. A lot of us are broken down from our jobs.”

The museum in the city’s resurgent Midtown district 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. A museum spokeswoman told The Associated Press earlier this year that Van Gogh’s “Self Portrait” was the first piece from the acclaimed artist acquired by an American museum.

The art institute declined to comment on Christie’s evaluation but said in a statement that it reaffirmed “its position that the museum collection is a cultural resource, not a municipal asset.” It added that museum officials hope Orr will “continue to protect ... the collection and oppose any attempts to force a sale” and they will take “appropriate action” to preserve it.