Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is the Detroit Institute for Arts Collection For Sale?

A story in the November 5, 2013, edition of the New York Times describes an appraisal that a major auction house did of the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a city-owned museum. In order to pay off its creditors, the city of Detroit, in bankruptcy court, is seriously considering selling off its world-class art collection, an unprecedented step for a U.S. museum. The Detroit Institute of Arts owns some of Diego Rivera’s greatest murals, painted specifically for the museum. Other works in the collection include Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s celebrated The Wedding Dance, a stunning self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh in a yellow straw hat and cornflower blue shirt, and Henri Matisse’s The Wild Poppies in stained glass.
The Rivera Court in the Detroit Institute of Arts
The city of Detroit is $18 billion dollars in debt. Even the pensions of its municipal workers are being considered for cuts, according to a ruling this week by a federal judge. Selling off works of art might seem like a rational way to ease the deficit. According to the article in the Times, “Some of Detroit’s largest creditors have contended in court that the museum’s collection is not an essential city asset and should be sold to help pay those who are owed money.”

But what is an “essential city asset” if not the works of art that generations of Detroit citizens have grown up knowing and loving? A painting or a sculpture that you visit regularly in a museum becomes almost like a friend. Its removal or disappearance is not a trivial event.

The Detroit Institute of Arts commissioned Diego Rivera to paint the series of murals in the museum in 1932. Rivera chose the theme of Detroit Industry for the cycle of paintings. He spent a month at the Ford Motor Company’s plant in Dearborn, Michigan, sketching and planning the murals, a tribute to local technology. Many of the portraits in the murals depict residents of the Detroit area, including a museum guard and gardener, and a Ford engineer. Taking these murals out of Detroit would deprive these artworks of much of their historical setting and context.

Even if the Detroit Institute of Arts sells off most of the collection that can be auctioned, estimates of what it would net range from $452 million to $2.5 billion, only a fraction of Detroit’s debt. 

We have to consider as a country what are priorities are. Do we support keeping great works of art accessible to the public, and maintaining the pensions of lifelong public servants, or do we continue to spend two-thirds of a trillion dollars each year on military expenditures? It’s possible we've reached the point where we have to choose.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka
How to Be an American Writer

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