Wednesday, December 18, 2013

To sell or not to sell?

Should the Detroit Institute of Art's collection, or at least 5% of it, be sold?

The Journal Times says "yes."

The Daily Caller says "yes," and add Belle Isle to the mix. On why the art should be sold, "Sure, the DIA is a wonderful feature for the midwestern city. But even more charming is a city with streetlights that work, garbage that is collected, and a police force that can keep a city safe."

We will know the value of 5% of the collection tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Christie's values Detroit's art collection between $452 and $866 million

Yep. That's million. Guess they don't have any Francis Bacons lying around, just a few masterpieces by Bruegel, van Gogh and Cézanne.

Today, Christie's said it has appraised some of the Detroit Institute of Arts' collection and said the works had a fair market value of $452 million to $866 million. It also suggested five alternatives to selling, which would allow the city to benefit financially while keeping the DIA collection intact.

And what are those five alternatives? Let's just say the first one is, as some say, robbing Peter to pay Paul (is that the quote?). Detroit can use the collection as collateral for loans, and given Detroit's impeccable history in paying off debts this will most likely get the vote for best solution.

File this under "Great solutions in history."

Let them eat art!

Something tells me this is much ado about nothing, but here goes.

Yesterday (it's now officially 12:39am), federal judge Steven J. Rhodes ruled that the city of Detroit is eligible to file for bankruptcy.

What does this mean? Not much, unless you live in Detroit, you care about maintaining a romantic outlook on art, or you're in the business of buying and selling art. In all seriousness, what this means is that theoretically speaking the Detroit Institute of Art's collection could be auctioned off in part or in its entirety to help pay off the city's debts.

Why do I italicize "theoretically"? Because if you actually believe that that fire sale would happen then you are also likely to believe that the state of Texas would allow Jerry Jones to relocate the Dallas Cowboys to the state of Alabama.

This is actually quite sad. That contemporary art has come down not to art making or its content, but rather to the creation of drama by idle individuals about the extremely remote possibility of selling "canonical" works of Western art. Hysteria is more like it.

Here's a very stupid question: why would a city with an exodus of residents and engulfed in poverty, decaying architecture and unpaid bills want to sell off all or any of its city's art collection? I mean, this isn't Venezuela.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Getting Antsy, Detroit's Creditors Want Their Money!

The LA Times reports that creditors of the city of Detroit are applying pressure on local leaders to sell off artworks belonging to the Detroit Institute of Arts in order to get paid for debts owed. They're also asking that the city of Detroit cooperate in assessing the value of the art. 

Given the delay in assessing the value of the DIA's collection, one can certainly see why. What's taking so long? 


Friday, November 22, 2013

Christie's Evaluation of DIA's Art Collection Delayed

A highly anticipated evaluation of thousands of city-owned treasures at the Detroit Institute of Arts is not expected to be finished until at least the second week of December. 
The report from Christie’s auction house in New York, which Detroit officials previously said would be completed in October or November, is expected to have a major impact on the fate of the museum’s world-class collection.
Via the Detroit Free Press.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Who's 'Profiting' from Detroit's Bankruptcy?

With Detroit's pending bankruptcy the debate over whether to deaccession the DIA's art collection is well known.

But other than the bankruptcy lawyers and restructuring experts, who else will profit from Detroit's bankruptcy? Marketwatch's Ben Eisen on how Christie's and Barclay's are just two other entities profiting from Detroit's bankruptcy.

Eisen's slideshow is certainly worth the read, but I'm not sure that 'profiting' is quite the right word to use in this situation as it denotes an intentional act. Let's face it, when there are problems and screw-ups, someone has to service and fix these problems. This is called providing services rather than profiting. Getting paid for one's time, knowledge, and application of those two factors is not necessarily synonymous with 'profiting.'

Monday, November 18, 2013

In Detroit, Secrecy and the Private Bailing Out of City-Owed Pensions

The Nonprofit Quarterly pens a good article on two major problems with Judge Rosen's secret meeting with major private foundations in hope of brainstorming a financial solution that would exclude selling any or all of the Detroit Institute of Art's collection. The two major problems the NPQ sees are secrecy and the question of whether private foundations should be bailing out city-owed pensions.
The American public dislikes secrecy, no matter how you slice it. When foundations play into that, all their high statements about engagement and openness fly out the window. 
On the role of philanthropies in society, the NPQ has this to say,
But if their sense of civic pride or civic duty lures them into bailing out the city from the demands of its creditors, pensions or others, Detroit’s foundations will be not only depriving Detroit’s nonprofit sector of badly needed resources, but setting a very troubling precedent. How many other cities will lean on their civic-minded local foundations for bailouts like Detroit’s?
The entire NPQ article is available here.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Remains of a Detroit Public Library

Those opposed to deaccessioning may want to take a quick peek at these eerie, and sad, images of the abandoned Mark Twain Public Library in Detroit.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What do Detroiters & Michiganders think should happen with the DIA's collection?

Dear Reader: My good friend and soon-to-be art lawyer, Dani Johnson, has generously agreed to share her thoughts and research concerning the city of Detroit, its pending bankruptcy, and the possible deaccessioning of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection. Dani's first blog entry was published Monday, the second yesterday, and the last one today.


Most pieces I’ve read in the press either adamantly oppose selling any art or strongly advocate for doing whatever is necessary to help the City financially, including selling some of the DIA’s art. After talking with family, friends, and friends of friends who live and/or work in the Detroit area about what they think should happen, the answers I’ve gotten can best be summed up as: it’s complicated.

Obviously no one wants to break up the DIA’s outstanding collection: in addition to the DIA’s importance as a cultural institute in the city, Detroiters are proud people, and the DIA is one of the last things they have to hang on to from the glory days of Detroit’s earlier years. On the other hand, obviously every one wants Detroit police officers and firefighters to get the pensions they’ve earned and for some of the other glaring financial problems of Detroit to be addressed.

What nobody knows is whether one will lead to the other. Even if the City is able to sell off some of the collection, will that money go to municipal workers’ pensions? Or will it go straight to the pockets of creditors? My understanding is that bankruptcy judges in similar circumstances do their best to keep assets like this in the charitable/public sector while fulfilling creditors from other assets, but the whole problem here is that Detroit is almost flush out of other assets. In either case, will selling the art provide a long-term solution? Many are concerned that it will provide only a temporary patch and then leave Detroit with nothing to make it a city worth living in. This is only an issue if you’re of the opinion that Detroit is capable of being revived and rebuilt—but certainly every Detroiter I’ve talked to is of that opinion. And with the recent influx of private investment into the City (namely Dan Gilbert buying up a good portion of the City), I have to say I’m hopeful that it’s possible, too.

Dani Johnson is a recent graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law. During law school, Dani studied intellectual property law and founded the Society for Law and the Arts, a student organization that raises awareness for art law issues and career paths. Dani served as a Summer Associate at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York in 2012 and as the Trademark Office Assistant at Indiana University’s Office of Licensing and Trademarks in early 2013. Dani lives in Chicago and will soon be sworn in to the Illinois Bar. Dani may be reached at

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What are the nuts and bolts of the Attorney General’s opinion?

Dear Reader: My good friend and soon-to-be art lawyer, Dani Johnson, has generously agreed to share her thoughts and research concerning the city of Detroit, its pending bankruptcy, and the possible deaccessioning of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection. Dani's first blog entry was published yesterday, the second today and last tomorrow, Wednesday, October 9th.

Bill Schuette’s opinion points out that the museum was originally incorporated as a nonprofit corporation with a specific charitable purpose: the public exhibition of art. So, it was founded as a charitable trust, with the Founders Society serving as its trustees, the public serving as the beneficiaries, and the public exhibition of art being its charitable purpose. When the City accepted the transfer of title of the collection in 1919, the law that allowed this transfer (1919 PA 67) required that the City use the property to maintain a public art institute and continue exhibiting art to the general public. Schuette argues that under charitable trust law, the transfer was “a transfer of the Founders Society’s . . . legal title in its charitable assets to a new charitable trustee—the City.” Basically, Schuette says that in 1919, the City took over as the trustees for the museum, but the collection remains in trust for the public, and all of the City’s expenditures for the museum have been in operating that trust for the public, not on behalf of the City itself. Because of this, the collection is not a financial asset of the City or the Founders Society, and it cannot be sold to pay off any of their debts—rather, it must continue to be used for its original charitable purpose, which is the public exhibition of art.

Schuette’s arguments seem logical and well-founded. A loophole in the argument that comes to mind is the doctrine of cy pres, which allows a judge to modify a charitable purpose when the original charitable purpose is no longer feasible. Proponents of selling the artwork could argue that because of Detroit’s dire financial state, exhibiting the artwork at the DIA is no longer feasible or in the best interests of the public. However, it seems unlikely that a court would pursue that path: doing so would be to quite dramatically redefine the charitable purpose of the DIA in a way that really hasn’t been done before.

Another argument I wondered about was whether part of the collection—namely that part that was purchased with City money, rather than donated or purchased by the Founders Society—might be more vulnerable to being sold. Schuette addresses this in one of his footnotes, and says that such a notion is inconsistent with trust law. He argues that trustees must keep trust property separate from the trustee’s own property and to act otherwise would be a breach of charitable trust—the notion that the City has been in breach since 1919 is “untenable,” which Schuette argues further supports the conclusion that the entire collection exists, and always has existed, for the singular charitable purpose of the exhibition of art.

I’m surprised that this warranted only a footnote, as it seems like a legitimate concern that artwork purchased with City tax dollars would be more susceptible to sale than artwork that was donated. Is it possible that a court could find these assets to be separate, even if it means a finding that the City breached its duties as trustee? I agree that it doesn’t seem likely, but a court could decide this, and it may be a tempting way to go—selling off only artwork that was purchased with City money seems on its face reasonable and would likely garner less heat from the public than selling the entire collection or randomly choosing a few of the most valuable pieces to sell.

Tomorrow, what do Detroiters & Michiganders think should happen?

Dani Johnson is a recent graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law. During law school, Dani studied intellectual property law and founded the Society for Law and the Arts, a student organization that raises awareness for art law issues and career paths. Dani served as a Summer Associate at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York in 2012 and as the Trademark Office Assistant at Indiana University’s Office of Licensing and Trademarks in early 2013. Dani lives in Chicago and will soon be sworn in to the Illinois Bar. Dani may be reached at


Monday, October 7, 2013

How and Why Does the City of Detroit Own DIA's Art Collection?

Dear Reader:  My good friend and soon-to-be art lawyer, Dani Johnson, has generously agreed to share her thoughts and research concerning the city of Detroit, its pending bankruptcy, and the possible deaccessioning of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection. Dani's blog entries will be published today, tomorrow, and Wednesday, October 9th.

How and Why Does the City of Detroit Own DIA's Art Collection?

The DIA was incorporated in 1885 as a private, nonprofit corporation. Shortly thereafter, the City began appropriating money to support the museum. These appropriations raised concerns, a lawsuit was filed, and ultimately the Michigan Supreme Court decided in 1915 that the appropriations violated the state Constitution’s restrictions on a city’s lending of credit to an entity other than a public or municipal agency. After this, the museum began to struggle, and in response, the Michigan Legislature enacted a law (1919 PA 67) that allowed a corporation situated in a city empowered to maintain an art institute to convey its property to the city, so long as the property was used for the purposes for which the corporation was organized. Pursuant to this, the DIA transferred its collection to the City, while the nonprofit organization (today the Founders Society) continued to support the museum. This unique and problematic structure led the DIA to fluctuate in prosperity as Detroit experienced extreme financial fluxes and political problems over the last century.

In the wake of Governor Engel’s budget cuts to the DIA beginning in 1991, the Founders Society launched a fundraising campaign and raised over $25 million for the DIA, creating some space to formulate a long-term solution for the museum. In 1998, the City and the Founders Society reached an agreement under which the City retained legal title to the collection while the Founders Society had the exclusive right to acquire and dispose of the museum’s works of art.

Because of the convoluted nature of the structure, it’s been difficult to tell what rights the City has in potentially selling off any of the artwork to pay down some of Detroit’s debts. Earlier this summer, Michigan’s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, issued a 22-page nonbinding opinion that it would be illegal for the City to do so.

Tomorrow, What are the nuts and bolts of the Attorney General’s opinion?

Dani Johnson is a recent graduate of Indiana University Maurer School of Law. During law school, Dani studied intellectual property law and founded the Society for Law and the Arts, a student organization that raises awareness for art law issues and career paths. Dani served as a Summer Associate at Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York in 2012 and as the Trademark Office Assistant at Indiana University’s Office of Licensing and Trademarks in early 2013. Dani lives in Chicago and will soon be sworn in to the Illinois Bar. Dani may be reached at


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Socialists to Protest In Defense of DIA

With sloganeering such as, "Culture is a social right," "The art belongs to the people," "No cuts to workers pensions or city services!" and "No to banrkuptcy", a mass protest has been scheduled in front of the DIA this Friday, Oct. 4th.

If they can tell me how Detroit can keep the DIA collection intact, repair the potholes and broken streetlights, keep pensions at their original numbers, and NOT file for bankruptcy, I'd love to know so I can package that idea and sell it to our federal government. Talk about a money-maker! Thanks to my good friend, Dani Johnson, for the heads up on this one.

From the socialist's website,

No one should believe the claims that sale of the art will help save workers’ pensions. After they take the art, the banks will be even more eager to steal municipal workers’ pensions and to slash city services! The right to culture must be defended along with all the rights of the working class. 
The Socialist Equality Party and International Youth and Students for Social Equality are calling for a mass demonstration at the DIA to defend the DIA. We aim not to pressure the Democrats and Republicans, the bought-and-paid-for politicians of the banks, but to organize an independent movement of working people. 
To organize this struggle the SEP is calling for the formation of a Committee to Defend the DIA!


Monday, September 30, 2013

Should the DIA Start Renting a Moving Van?

Nolan Finley, of the Detroit News,
In recent days, I’ve talked to three people at the top of the decision-making in the bankruptcy process. All said, without question, that at least part of the collection will have to be — their word — “monetized” before the bankruptcy is resolved.
But he wonders how much of the DIA collection will be up for grabs. 
Christie’s, the New York auction house, is assessing the collection. If the value is pegged at $2 billion to $3 billion, the DIA likely will escape relatively unscathed. If, as expected, it comes in at $10 billion to $15 billion, the half-billion Orr wants is reasonable. But if the number is more astronomical — $25 billion or above — somebody call Roger Penske and order a moving van.
I guess this is one time when an art collector wants the value of her collection to be assessed as low as possible. But then, what are the consequences of that gesture? 


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Roberta Smith Is Way Off the Mark on the DIA

NY Times arts writer, Robert Smith, weighs in on the DIA and the possible sale of part of its collection.  I read the story on my flight back from Texas, and underlined so many conclusory statements and legal misstatements that my pen ran out of ink.

Donn Zaretsky does a great point-by-point analysis of Smith's inflated and fictional account, highlighting Smith's gluttunous use of hyperbole. Normally I would dismiss Smith's off-the-cuff comments given that on occasion she does hit the nail on the head. But since the ongoing DIA situation is of key public concern with major consequences, many readers who respect Smith's position as a Times writer will allocate significant truth and weight to her unfounded allegations, then turn around and disseminate these same ridiculous arguments.

I don't think I would be too crazy to say that some of Smith's comments border on being unethical and severely lacking in fact-checking skills, to the extent that I would encourage readers to contact the Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, and ask her to take a look into Smith's lack of journalistic integrity.


Friday, August 30, 2013

We Don't Need No Stinkin' AAMD Police

Donn Zaretsky reports that we have another art lover calling for the Deaccessioning Police to back off.

This is one petition I'll gladly sign. Now, who could we get fired? Lee Rosenbaum?

Monday, August 26, 2013

The DIA and Its Collection Are Now Genuine Celebrity Figures

My good friend, Michael Bennett, on why art matters to Detroit, and why Detroit should use this opportunity--it's 15 minutes of fame--to garner support for the DIA and its collection.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Law Prof: Selling DIA's Art Collection "a huge mistake."

Georgetown Law professor and bankruptcy expert, Adam Levitin, thinks selling the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to pay creditors is wrong legally and culturally.
Sacrificing Detroit’s art would be an urban planning mistake of the first order that would unjustly enrich creditors. It doesn’t have to happen. Michigan can, and should, take the legal steps necessary to prevent this from happening.
Donn Zaretsky also pointed out Levitin's three main reasons,

1. If Detroit is to be rebuilt, it needs a cultural base, not just an economic base.

2. It would also be wrong legally. Bankruptcy law has no provision that requires cities to sell their assets to satisfy creditors.

3. Detroit’s creditors may complain that it is unfair for the city to hold on to a valuable asset while not paying them in full. The truth, though, is that liquidating the art collection would represent a giant windfall for creditors. No creditor ever relied on being able to seize the DIA collection when extending credit to the city.

I have a couple of questions for Professor Levitin.

One, we must assume Detroit can be rebuilt, and by this I mean rebuilt to the extent that it can support an institution the size of the DIA. Additionally, would it even make sense to have burned down buildings, a decreased police and fire department force, and potholes the size of moon craters for the sake of having cultural classics?

Two, why would liquidating part--or all--of the DIA's collection represent "a giant windfall for creditors"? What if you owe me $10 and you allege you are broke, but then you find a $5 bill in your pocket that you "didn't know" you had. Does that mean I would be getting a "windfall" if you paid me half of what you owe me? What if you find a $20, would it be so wrong to walk down to the corner store and get two $10s, one for you and one for me?


Monday, August 19, 2013

What's the Value of Detroit Institute of Arts' Collection?

We'll soon find out.
Christie’s will only appraise works bought directly by the city that are unencumbered by donated funds or other covenants that cloud clear legal title, said Bill Nowling, spokesman for Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr. The appraisal will unfold in phases. Officials will start with the art on view before evaluating art in storage with an estimated market value of $50,000 or more and, finally, art in storage presumed to be worth less than $50,000.
Final results are due in October or November. The city is paying Christie’s a $200,000 fee. However, it appears that if there is a sale, it won't necessarily be made through Christie's.

More via The Detroit Free Press.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Deaccessioning Police plans 'Day for Detroit'

Can blogs wear Birkenstocks?

A few art blogs are rallying around the web-o-sphere to bring attention to Detroit's financial plight and the potential deaccessioning of DIA's art collection. Because, you know, it's not like Detroit's been in the news lately.

I'm a bit hurt. Why wasn't The Deaccessioning Blog invited? (wink, wink...)

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Should Detroit Deaccession? Let's Load the Dice

The NY Times Sunday Dialogue takes a few reader "calls" on the issues of Detroit's bankruptcy and the potential deaccessioning of part of the Detroit Institute of Art's collection.

The census given in the Times' print version is, unsurprisingly, that the DIA should not sell of its art works to pay for Detroit's financial woes. What's unfortunate, and lackluster, about the Times' print survey is that it includes five responses, only one of which is from Michigan and four of the five are against any kind of sale.

The online survey includes two other responses, one of which makes a similar argument I have made before that art "education" is more than access to high-priced "masterpieces." Angela Sorby, from Milwaukee, writes,
Arts education does not depend on expensive paintings; it depends on (relatively cheap) books, supplies and teachers. I think Detroit should sell its collection and pay off its debt. But the city should also set money aside to cultivate the city’s children — its future Caravaggios — whose deep reserves of talent might otherwise disappear, unheard and unseen.
Philosophy professor, Felicia Ackerman, adds some sobering thoughts,
Those who consider art essential to civilization should realize that it is even more essential for a civilized society not to abandon its most vulnerable members, let alone break its promise of pensions to those who have invested their working lives in public service.
Frank Robinson, who penned the original letter to the editor, responds to Ackerman,
Nevertheless, as Ms. Ackerman eloquently points out, the practical, political and moral question remains for Detroit and, to a lesser degree, for other museums: the pensions of civil servants, as well as basic municipal services, will be cut without some infusion of cash, and the institute’s paintings are significant assets. 
Robinson's response contains the key word for me in this dilemma: practical. I know it's politically incorrect to believe that there are practical solutions to many dire situations, primarily financial, because somehow, and from somewhere, money will magically appear and absolve any person or entity from financial ruin.

I would like to ask the editors of the Times if there were any responses submitted by Detroiters, and if so, why weren't they included? Are we really to believe that roughly 80% of the population is against any kind of deaccessioning or, shall we say, agrees with New York's "cultural elite"?


Friday, August 9, 2013

Detroit, "It all has to go!"

Steve Siebold, self-described as "author and expert in the field of critical thinking and mental toughness training," gives Detroit a little boot camp training.
So let me get this straight: Detroit is bankrupt and has no money, yet it can conveniently come up with $200,000 for a "procedural" [art] appraisal? This has got to be one of the biggest lessons in delusional thinking of behalf of a municipality.
Siebold doesn't just want the artwork sold (he thinks it's a "good start"), he thinks everything must go.
From there it's just a matter of going down the line, from the city held airport to the Detroit-Windsor tunnel, real estate and parking garages. It doesn't matter how old or nostalgic the artwork or any other asset is. It all has to go!
And so do unions and the sense of entitlement to a federal bailout, says Siebold. 
The situation in Detroit and Chicago is quite ugly indeed, but the solution starts with eliminating wasteful spending with money that's not available, liquidating assets, dissolving the unions, and getting out of an entitlement way of thinking that a bailout is the solution.
Luckily, and hopefully no rain-out, I get to watch the Detroit Tigers take on the Yankees tonight before Siebold sells them to the Russians.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Breaking: Confirmed, Christie's Hired to Appraise DIA Collection for Potential Sell-Off

Confirmed today. Kevyn Orr had contracted Christie's to appraise the DIA's collection.

Here's the Detroit Institute of Art's statement:
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) has learned that Christie’s, at the request of the Emergency Manager, plans to proceed with a valuation of the DIA collection, and we will be cooperating completely in that process. However, we continue to believe there is no reason to value the collection as the Attorney General has made clear that the art is held in charitable trust and cannot be sold as part of a bankruptcy proceeding. We applaud the EM's focus on rebuilding the City, but would point out that he undercuts that core goal by jeopardizing Detroit's most important cultural institution.

In addition, recent moves in Oakland and Macomb counties to invalidate the tri-county millage if art is sold virtually ensure that any forced sale of art would precipitate the rapid demise of the DIA. Removing $23 million in annual operating funds – nearly 75% of the museum’s operating budget – and violating the trust of donors and supporters would cripple the museum, putting an additional financial burden on our already struggling city. The DIA has long been doing business without City of Detroit operating support; any move that compromises its financial stability will endanger the museum and further challenge the City’s future.
For some reason I would not read much into this. This may be a well-planned move to try to get the Obama administration involved (read: federal bailout).

Let's see what the Deaccessioning Police has to say.


Friday, August 2, 2013

Arguments Against Deaccessioning Should Come from Detroit's Leaders

The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout articulates what I've argued before; the arguments against selling off the DIA's art collection should come from Detroiters, not elitist Northeasterners.
Anybody who doesn't want Detroit to sell its art must be prepared to go up against arguments like these. What's more, the counterarguments will have to persuade locals who know how it feels to call the cops and get a busy signal. In my experience, art lovers aren't accustomed to making that kind of argument, any more than they're accustomed to living in a city without streetlights.
To the point, and very true. No offense, but I wonder how long Cobble Hillers or West Villagers (where the baby strollers roam) would argue for keeping artwork when there are no cops to keep Bed-Stuyers away or when streets have potholes the size of moon craters.


"We don't need Monet - we need money."

Politically, there may be no winning formula, with strong feelings on both sides of the argument.
The Chicago Tribune has an update.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

DIA's Museum Director Chastises the NY Times

After two months of hectic coverage, I call upon journalists to resist the temptation to jump to disaster scenarios or to make the D.I.A.’s singular and highly complicated situation part of a broader story about the structural challenges faced by museums in general.
Graham W. J. Beal, Director, Detroit Institue of Art, in his letter to the NY Times.

Does the DIA's "trust doctrine" Trump the Rights of Creditors?

The Connecticut Law Tribune on whether the Detroit Institute of Art's "trust doctrine" will trump the rights of the creditors and whether Detroit's predicament will influence the generosity of potential donors of art to museums.

Good read. 


Monday, July 29, 2013

Some Good News: Museum Buys Art Work

Among all the latest chatter, gossip, opining, and opinionated meanderings, we have some good news from the museum world. The Cincinnati Art Museum has just bought its first Georgia O'Keeffe. Yes, bought, not deaccessioned.
The museum paid more than $1.8 million for its first O’Keeffe. It will go on exhibit in time for Labor Day Weekend, in a small, second-floor gallery.


Art Intelligentsia Not Too Happy with Christie's

The Detroit Free Press opines. Not too happy at the sight of vultures flying in.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Schjeldahl Flip-Flops, Says DIA Art Should Stay

I wonder what made Mr. Schjeldahl change course? Or rather, I wonder how much time he actually spent thinking through his first opinion where he championed selling the Detroit Institute of Art's collection to help save moribund pensions. What changed?

Mr. Schjeldahl claims to now have a "sounder grasp" of the issues involved. No offense to Mr. Schjeldahl, but these issues don't seem that complex to me. Mr. Schjeldahl claims that selling the art would not bring "dollar-for-dollar" relief to Detroit's pensioners, but that was evident from the start. He also claims sentimentality when he gives a vivid description--from his friend--of countless individuals who no longer would be able to view their favorite artworks; presumably individuals in no need of an ambulance, police car or fire truck.

I respect a person's decision to switch sides; I do it all the time. What's of import, however, are the reasons for the flip-flopping or, rather, the sound reasons. Mr. Schjeldahl argument that selling of DIA's collection would "stagger even today's inflated [art] market" serves only to uphold my initial argument that those arguing, sentimentally, against the sale of the artworks are "those who read the New Yorker and those who blog about art simply to create cultural capital." In other words, those that have an investment in the so-called art market and its ideologies.

I'm friends with Hrag Vartanian, who I believe accused Mr. Schjeldahl of suggesting that Greece sell the Parthenon to pay its crippling national debt. Apples to oranges? Perhaps. But more interestingly it's how "culture" is pre-defined as "Culture." Where is the cultural-elite's cry when a sports team decamps from one city to a more profitable metropolis (see the Los Angeles Raiders and the St. Louis Rams, to name only two)? What aggravates me most about this position is that it completely obliterates Detroit's existing culture(s). It's as if Detroit would be left cultureless should the DIA sell off its collection. In the words of theorist, Raymond Williams, culture is ordinary.

Lastly, I'm getting very tired of hearing cultural elites cry demand that someone--usually a writer--be fired every time that writers pens an opinion contrary to the politically correct ideologies of the leftist intelligentsia. I say this not as a lawyer in favor of the First Amendment; I say this as an artist invested in free speech and robust debate. Let's end the calls and petitions for the firing of writers and artist, for we all very well know where that road leads. As Mr. Vartanian aptly showed with his Hyperallergic article, the laptop is mightier than the sword.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Should Detroit Sell Its Musty Art?

It's rare when a respected art critic takes a position "against" art. I put "against" in quotes because in this case Peter Schjeldahl isn't really taking a position against art per se, but rather a position that I have endorsed before: why do we continue to romanticize art and its function? Why do we continue to inject an aura into the art object?

In Schjeldahl's view, art-is-art, or better yet, the Detroit Institute of Art's collection is plop art--art whose meaning remains the same regardless of context.
At any rate, they are hardly altered by inhabiting one building rather than another. The relationship of art to the institutions that house and display it is a marriage of convenience, with self-interest on both sides, and not an ineluctable romance.
In other words the DIA collection isn't site-specific art. We're not talking about the Spiral Jetty or Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument. In fact, Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument is a perfect example of why the DIA should sell its collection: there's a difference between having access to art making and culture and having an art collection that attracts tourists (if that) yet ignores the local citizenry.

Hirschhorn's monument takes place on the grounds of Forest Houses, a New York City Housing Authority development in the Morrisania neighborhood of the Bronx, New York. Here's an edited description of the project via The DIA Art Foundation website.
Constructed by residents of Forest Houses, the artwork takes the form of an outdoor structure comprised of numerous pavilions. Gramsci Monument will offer a daily program of lectures by philosopher Marcus Steinweg, a children's workshop run by artist Lex Brown, a radio station, happy hour, and a daily newspaper. Weekly programs include a play titled Gramsci Theater, Gramsci Seminars led by international scholars, Poetry Lectures and Workshops led by poets and writers, Art Workshops led by Hirschhorn, open microphone events coordinated by the community, and field trips organized by the project’s “ambassador[.]”
Similar to Hirschhorn's project, I believe that what the city of Detroit needs is hands-on culture-making; not hand wringing. No, not every person should have the chance to see art or to live down the street from it. Rather, they should have the chance to create their own version of art and culture and not one dictated by those who read the New Yorker or those who blog about art simply to create cultural capital.

However, I do part ways with Schjeldahl in his belief that museums bestow a sense of identity and self-esteem "even on people who never visit them." In this regard, Schjeldahl continues to romanticize and idealize the so-called "power" of art institutions while perpetuating archaic and pernicious ideologies of Western culture.

In the end, not everyone "gets"museum art, art criticism or art history. As Mike Kelley once said, you can't foist art on people. If the people of Detroit don't care about art, don't want access to it, don't want to live down the street from it, or simply don't get it, then what's the loss?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Breaking: Detroit bankruptcy valid, judge rules

Via Bloomberg News. NBC has an update here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Detroit, Should We Keep Art "that the well to do like to oooh and aaah at?"

Forbes contributor Tim Worstall says..."What is it that we’re supposed to care about? A few pieces of canvas or real lives as they are actually lived?"

Who Will Benefit From Detroit's Demise? Lawyers.

Above the Law's Elie Mystal explains
Don’t worry, as usual there will be people making money in Detroit. It just won’t be the people who actually live there… 
So, there you have it. The Detroit Institute of Art's art collection may not end up paying for lights, police cars or pensions. It may, as sick as this may sound, end up lining the pockets of some firms that represent some of the corporations that helped to cause Detroit's mess. Who said Biglaw was dead?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

To Save Detroit, What Goes First, Pensions or Art?

I just read this article on The Telegraph concerning Detroit's bankruptcy issue and politics. One thing it makes clear is that capital "P" politics is now in play. Should Detroit get a federal bailout? It was a matter of time before the dreaded "B" word was lobbed around.

Before I opine, my immediate reaction would be "hell no." The last thing we need in this country is to incentivize irresponsible spending by municipalities all while guaranteeing that although local residents of a bankrupt city may not have streetlights, ambulances, and police cars they'll have pensions and access to Jackson Pollock's drip paintings.

One aspect I have been thinking about regarding Detroit's bankruptcy (regardless of how we spin it, let's call it what it is, it's a bankruptcy), is that it does call for us to reconfigure and redefine our notion of culture and, in relation to it, our definition of "value." What kind of culture do we value in this day and age? Does a contemporary city really need a museum and art collection that pretty much reiterates and replicates what other major museums in the U.S. already do? Does Detroit's mess not call for us to rethink what a city actually needs after the 2008 economic apocalypse? Are there not other forms of culture that a city like Detroit could use and, more importantly, may already have? If so, could these forms of culture not be funded--or partially funded--with a sale of the DIA collection?

Tied to this question is the thought of subsidies funding. I'm wondering how much of the revenue earned by local Detroit sports teams--the Tigers, Red Wings, and Pistons--actually goes to the city of Detroit (and I'm not talking simply about employment of locals). If anyone knows, please feel free to opine or e-mail me.

More on this as I parcel out my thoughts.

In case you haven't read it yet, here's NY Times journalist Randy Kennedy's thoughts on Detroit.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Detroit, Resilience or Resignation?

Detroit, the one-time city giant, has filed for bankruptcy. As many of you know, the Detroit Institute of Art was reluctant, actually, aggressively adamant that they would not hold a fire sale to help Detroit out of its financial woes. They still hold this position.

Having just returned from a short stint in Detroit, I can honestly say that there are no words to describe the landscape of the city and of the people. Resilience or resignation? That's the question a friend of mine asked regarding the people of Detroit. I think it's both (or at least it's hard to tell). It's similar to being a Chicago Cubs fan on the one hand or being a sports writer and being assigned to cover the NY Mets. Resilience or resignation?

I loved my stay in Detroit, and I loved the people I met while I was there. I was given a "tour" of homes that were purchased for $100 and $500; both needing repairs but nonetheless, what does $500 get you in New York city, or any other city in the US? These homes were next to abandoned and empty lots; adjacent to armatures of homes charred to a crisp.

Detroit is decimated. As I drove around the city I could not help but feel that I was in the TV show, The Walking Dead. The city looked empty; abandoned. Streets need repair. I noticed one, yes, one police car the three days I was there (and that police car was in front of Comerica Park the night that the Detroit Tigers played the Texas Rangers).

A current question on the minds of artists, curators, and museums concerns the role that art and public museums play in relation to the public. Relating to the public generally means providing a wide array of culture and making it affordable and accessible. There comes a time, however, when an institution must reassess--on its own--its own duty to the city that it inhabits. It calls for us to reassess our notion of art and of culture. Where are our artists in this time of need?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Criticism Over Dia Foundation’s Plan to Sell Some Artworks

Not everyone is happy that the Dia Foundation is planning on selling a few notable works to raise funds for...more works. Now imagine if they were selling these works to pay the electric bill, or to fund the new Jay-Z video.

UPDATE: July 15, 2013

Donn Zaretsky wonders what would happen if the sales proceeds were used for something other than new art acquisitions.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Even Art Can Save This City

Regarding the NY Times' latest article on the demise of the Motor City and the controversy over the potential fire sale of some art from the Detroit Institute of Art, Donn Zaretsky puts it quite bluntly, "sales of artwork won't make a lick of difference. The city's too far gone."

But hey, they do have the best hitter in baseball.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Dia Foundation to Sell Chamberlain, Newman, Twombly

New York's Dia Art Foundation will sell works from its collection by John Chamberlain, Alfred Jensen, Barnett Newman and Cy Twombly at Sotheby's New York this fall. The auction house's Nov. 13 and 14 contemporary art sales will include 27 examples, anticipated to bring in excess of $20 million. The sale will allow the museum to start an acquisitions fund.


Friday, June 14, 2013

So, Should Detroit Deaccession Its Animals and Old Cars, Too?

"Obviously with $15-17 billion in long term debt and no way to pay it off, Detroiters are delusional if they don’t think they are going to face painful sacrifices. This is the day of reckoning for a region that has failed in its basic duties." 
Ouch. Urban analyst, Aaron Renn, has more here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Michigan State Senate Committee Approves Bill Protecting DIA Collection

A state Senate committee moved quickly today to approve a bill that would protect the art collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts specifically, and Michigan museums in general, from liquidation in the event of a municipal bankruptcy proceeding. The bill was introduced Thursday by Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, and approved on a 5-0 vote today by the General Operations Committee.


Monday, June 3, 2013

College Art Association Speaks Out Against Possible Sale of DIA Collection

You can read the CAA's letter here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What Do You Think? Should the Georgia Museum of Art Deaccession or Not?

La Robe de la Mariée (The Wedding Dress)

Here's your chance to chime in, although I'm tempted to think that you have to be a resident of the state of Georgia in order for your two-cents to have any value.

Regardless, Lynn Boland, Pierre Daura Curator of European Art, wants to know what you think about her proposal to deaccession four of five paintings by Bernard Smol (French, 1897–1969), mainly because there hasn't been much interest in his works since, let's say, approximately 1960. 


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Museum Visitors to Vote on Which Work Not to Deaccession

Democracy in action.

Due to limited storage space and evolving collecting philosophy, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia staff has decided to “deaccession,” or remove from its collection, all but one of Smol’s works. Visitors will be able to vote on which one they would like the museum to keep, and curatorial staff will take those votes into consideration.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Will the Detroit Institute of Arts sell its collection to cover its $15 billion debt?

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering whether the multibillion-dollar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts should be considered city assets that potentially could be sold to cover about $15 billion in debt.

Oh, oh. This is not going to be very popular, at all. 

But this isn't going to go down without a fight. DIA Executive Vice President Annmarie Erickson said the museum has hired New York bankruptcy attorney Richard Levin of Cravath, Swaine & Moore to advise ways to protect the collection from possible losses. 

“We are standing by our contention and belief that we hold the collection in trust for the public,” Erickson said this evening. “And although to some it may seem to be an asset, we do not.”