Tags: detroit | art | court | battle

Court Battle Looms Over Detroit Art Sell-Off

Wednesday, 14 Aug 2013 01:58 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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A court battle is brewing over the proposed sale of parts of Detroit’s extensive art collection in order to pay its creditors.

Graham Beal, director of the Detroit Institute of Art, told the Detroit News his museum will "absolutely" take legal action against the bankrupt city if its masterworks are put up for sale.

Further, a Detroit metropolitan county is threatening to cut funding to the museum if any of its artworks are sold.

The institute boasts one of the largest collections of art in the United States, including priceless works by Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh, Degas, O’Keefe, Andrew Wyeth, Whistler, and Warhol.

Billions of dollars could be raised by selling some or all it, experts believe.

Beal’s warning comes following the city’s announcement last week that it will pay $200,000 to Christie’s, the New York auction house, to appraise the collection.

The announcement has infuriated art experts and art lovers all over the world who fear many important works could end up in the hands of private collectors never to be seen in public again.

The museum has hired a lawyer to plot its legal strategies.

The Oakland County Art Institute Authority will vote Aug. 20 on whether to stop distributing property tax revenue to the Detroit Institute of Art if Detroit's emergency manager decides to sell any of its art or divert funds from the museum to pay the city's creditors.

Gov. Rick Snyder and city officials have said the museum’s art is off limits.

As well, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said the art cannot be sold because it is held in a charitable trust for residents of Michigan.

But the hiring of Christie’s experts has raised a red flag. And just how federal courts may get involved in the sale of any of Detroit’s assets remains to be seen.

The News reports that Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr has raised the possibility of letting the museum keep its art, but making it pay a $20 million annual lease for 30 years.

Art critics and experts are holding "A Day for Detroit" on Tuesday in which they will discuss the possible loss of the city’s artworks.

In a column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, art critic Mary Louise Schumacher, wrote of the importance of keeping the collection whole.

"A permanent collection in a local museum represents the artworks that we can return to, over and over again, like a truly great piece of literature or music," Schumacher said.

"Sure, it's great to have a big Picasso or Rembrandt show blow through town, but the works in a museum's collection are the ones we have lasting relationships with over time."

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