DETROIT (WWJ) – A New York auction house might be interested in putting the Detroit Institute of Arts collection on the block.
Since Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the future of the city’s opulent art museum has been in jeopardy, with many speculating that the art could be sold off to help repay the city’s massive debt.
Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr seemed to put that speculation to bed during his first public comments on the bankruptcy, saying nothing at the DIA was for sale — including the original Howdy Doody marionette from the 1950s TV show, which is estimated at least $1 million.
However, many Detroiters were surprised to hear that Christie’s Auction House visited the museum back in June, before the bankruptcy filing, to apparently survey the collection’s worth.
Dominic Pangborn, an internationally known artist whose studio has been in Detroit for decades, said he was outraged to hear that Christie’s was in town.
“I think for an organization like Christie’s, they should boycott anything like this. The museum is a public museum. It may be legally under the jurisdiction of the city of Detroit but it’s not the city of Detroit’s — it’s the people it belongs to,” he said.
“They come in as vultures. It’s not that they’re developing the city or enhancing it or anything. I mean, it’s just a lot of investors coming in and it’s just not right, that’s how I feel,” Pangborn added. “What is the city going to be left with? Yeah, you can sell all the jewels of the city, but then what do we really have?”
Estimates of the DIA’s collection run nearly $4 billion, and some creditors say the city could use that money as it battles bankruptcy. But Pangborn thinks the DIA’s collection is a jewel of the city that shouldn’t even be considered for sale.
“The DIA was really created for the people of Detroit, yesterday, today and tomorrow. It’s not for sale,” he said. “It’s a great collection. It’s probably one of the top five, best collections in the nation.”
It wasn’t immediately clear if Christie’s was asked to visit the DIA, or if their representatives came on their own. Orr spokesman Bill Nowling said the city hasn’t asked anyone to appraise the value of the DIA’s assets, adding that he was “unaware whether any of the city’s creditors have requested such a valuation.”