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“Sounder Grasp of Issues”: Schjeldahl Says Detroit Institute of Arts Shouldn’t Be Decimated After All


Art Critic Peter Schjeldahl, speaking at Christie’s, in an American Federation of Arts talk, March 2008
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

In a headspinning turnaround, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl yesterday asked for a do-over, after being pelted with a torrent of tirades for his muddled analysis regarding possible sales of the Detroit Institute of Art’s masterpieces in connection with the city’s pending bankruptcy filing. In retracting his ill-considered views, he essentially acknowledged that (in my words yesterday) his “mistaken assumption” had led “to a confused conclusion.”

Saying that he now has a “sounder grasp of the issues involved,” Schjeldahl yesterday wrote:

I am now persuaded that a sale of the DIA’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….Finally, some acute attacks [emphasis added] have shown me the indefensibility of my position.

Nevertheless, Peter couldn’t resist another did-he-really-say-that proclamation—a sweeping assertion, at the conclusion of his retraction, that “the values of art, as art [and] those of art institutions…are often inimical.”

We breathlessly await his clear-headed elucidation of this tossed off, provocative salvo. At least Peter does vow that “the next time I advance that argument, I will try to limit the collateral damage.”

Schjeldahl at Museum of Modern Art, doing what he does best Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Schjeldahl doing what he does best, at a 2010 Matisse exhibition at Museum of Modern Art
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum


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