an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Fright Night: Detroit Institute of Arts’ Attorney Shines Light on City’s Murky Bankruptcy Discussions (with video)

Panel on Detroit Institute of Arts assembled by IFAR L to R: Frank Robinson, Retired Director, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; Richard Levin, partner & head of restructuring practice at law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Graham Beal, director, Detroit Institute of Arts; Samuel Sachs, Beal's predecessor at DIA Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Panel on Detroit Institute of Arts, assembled by International Foundation for Art Research
L to R: Frank Robinson, Retired Director, Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University; Richard Levin, partner & head of restructuring practice at law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Graham Beal, director, Detroit Institute of Arts; Samuel Sachs, Beal’s predecessor at the DIA
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Halloween seems like the ideal time to confront a scary situation that spooks the artworld—the possibility that the Detroit Institute of Arts might be forced to sell masterpieces from its collection to help satisfy its destitute city’s creditors.

Last week, an important behind-the-scenes player not given to public pronouncements, Richard Levin, the NYC-based lawyer retained by the DIA to navigate these perilous waters, broke his silence in a public panel discussion by four DIA-friendly experts who were assembled in New York by the International Foundation for Art Research.

Below is my CultureGrrl Video excerpting remarks by Levin and Graham Beal, the museum’s embattled director. Beal had the air of someone worn down (but not beaten) by the battle and mystified by what he repeatedly called the “cloud of unknowing” regarding deliberations about his institution’s fate.

During the Q&A (not part of my video), Beal suggested that the outpouring of support from the artworld (including this petition), while well-intentioned, is unlikely to have any impact on the decision-making of Detroit’s Emergency Manager, Kevyn Orr, in crafting a plan to repay some of what’s owed to Detroit’s creditors. Orr “seems to be determined to at least get something on the table by the end of December,” Levin told us. The creditors, he said, “are demanding that the there be value from the collection contributed to the amount that is going to be repaid.” Whether they will get their wish still remains to be determined.

Describing this drama as “a political situation,” Beal lamented that “we cannot get to the Governor”—a particularly troubling circumstance because the approval of Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is required for any plan that might be advanced by Detroit’s Emergency Manager to sell works from the museum’s collection worth more than $50,000 (as you will hear Levin explain).

For those of us who know more about Banksy than bankruptcy, Levin provided a clear, essential tutorial on municipal bankruptcy procedures and how they may (or, we hope, may not) affect the DIA:

an ArtsJournal blog