In the wake of Detroit’s bankruptcy filing last month, today’s confirmation from Christie’s that it has been hired to appraise a portion of the Detroit Institute of Art’s (DIA) city-owned art collection is setting off alarm bells in the art world.
According to a statement from DIA, officials there “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.”
The museum, however, made it clear where it stands on the potential sell-off, adding, “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.”
Institutions that are members of, or that adhere to guidelines set by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) are not permitted to deaccession or sell works for any purpose other than making further acquisitions. This is intended to prevent the proceeds of sales of artworks from being redirected towards other costs such as museum operations. However, the latest news indicates that Detroit officials are seriousy considering selling — or at the very least, leveraging — some pieces in the valuable collection to relieve its debt-related issues.
A statement from Christie’s went out of its way to play down the likelihood of a sell-off. Its specialists “will also assist and advise on how to realize value for the City while leaving the art in the City’s ownership,” the auction house said, adding, “We understand that a valuation of all the City’s assets (extending well beyond the art) is one of the many steps that will be necessary for the legal system to reach a conclusion about the best long term solution.”
However, the forceful tone of DIA's own statement seemed to suggest that, at the very least, the news that Christie's was moving into position was viewed with alarm: “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.”