DETROIT (WWJ) – Is there a real chance that Detroit’s art could be sold to the highest bidder?

Christie’s Appraisals Inc., the largest auction house in the world, confirmed Monday they were hired by the city to appraise city-owned items at the Detroit Institute of Art, following the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

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WWJ’s Charlie Langton asked DIA Director Graham Beal what, exactly, that means.

“Frankly, I don’t know,” said Beal. “We have not been, really, any meaningful part of these decisions — and doing a true [appraisal] of … the DIA’s whole collection would take months — actually, years.”

Beal said he’s been told very little, and, much like the public, he’s waiting to learn more about what’s going on.

“… You can’t help but be worried about a situation that is without precedent, and where some individuals are saying unflattering things about the DIA and making false comparisons between the museum and pensioners.

“So, there’s obviously a campaign going on — but we will do whatever we can to block the sale of anything,” Beal said.

Beal said many of the DIA’s most valuable pieces on view were restricted when they were given to the museum. “Two of our Van Goughs, Cezannes, Renoirs — we are specifically enjoined from selling those,” he said. “Of course, it won’t be the DIA who does any selling, because that would be, from our point of view, a deeply unethical thing to do.”

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The DIA said, in a statement Monday, that recent moves in Oakland and Macomb counties to invalidate the tri-county millage if art is sold would “precipitate the rapid demise of the DIA.”

Beal said this could ultimately put an end to museum operations.

“They [the counties] would regard this as a breach of faith, and the millage would immediately be suspended,” said Beal. “And that would precipitate — as we were talking about a year ago, before the vote —that would drive the DIA into a controlled shut down.”

Beal said it’s his hope that Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr will decide that selling of the city’s art simply isn’t worth it.

“… That whatever benefits there might be — of five or six cents on the dollar to creditors — that that does not outweigh the need for the DIA in terms of Detroit’s long-term revival,” said Beal. “But, of course, he may decide that; and creditors on their own might decide they’re still going to pursue it.”

This comes after Orr, in the spring, said he has “no interest in selling art” — but that all options remain on the table as he works to get Detroit’s financial house in order.

After failing to reach an agreement with creditors, Orr last month filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection on behalf of the city.  He estimates Detroit’s long-term debt at $18 billion.

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