The New York Times editorial board has come to a conclusion about whether the treasures of the Detroit Institute of Art should be sold as part of the bankruptcy: don't do it. "Selling the people’s art will not restore a battered city. It will only send more of its true assets elsewhere." New York itself came close to bankruptcy in the seventies so the Gray Lady has probably given this a lot of thought.
As cheering as the NYT's conclusion might be to Michigan's art lovers and to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is on record as opposing using the DIA's art collection to satisfy the Detroit's debts, the New York Times editorial is not nearly as satisfying the change of heart by the New Yorker's art critic, Peter Schjeldahl. Schjeldahl had endorsed the sale of the art in an earlier post, but yesterday wrote an apology:
I wrote in reaction to this quote in the Times, from a spokesman for the state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn D. Orr: “It’s hard to go to a pensioner on a fixed income and say, ‘We’re going to cut 20 percent of your income or 30 percent or whatever the number is, but art is eternal.’ ”
First, the facts: I am now persuaded that a sale of the D.I.A.’s art, besides making merely a dent in Detroit’s debt, could not conceivably bring dollar-for-dollar relief to the city’s pensioners. Further, the value of the works would stagger even today’s inflated market. Certainly, no museum could afford them. They would pass into private hands at relatively fire-sale prices.
Second, a heartfelt feeling tripped me into being heartless. A friend writes to me—“perhaps sentimentally,” but with justice—“I can’t help but feel the anger of the grandmother, the artist, the Detroit teenager just discovering art—the regular or semi-regular museum-goer who has four or five favorite paintings and is on the cusp of discovering more, who lives in Detroit (by choice or not) and now must watch them sell those three or four works off, and everything else.”
Art: Watson and the Shark, 1777, John Singleton Copley, Detroit Institute of Art