The dark “cloud of unknowing” (about which director Graham Beal has previously lamented) regarding deliberations about the Detroit Institute of Arts’ fate continues to hang over the museum today, with the delivery of Christie’s 150-page appraisal report to Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr.
The report provides valuations for more than 2,000 works from the museum’s 66,000-work collection and proffers five problematic recommendations on how those works might be monetized. [CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this post erroneously said that the DIA had not gotten a copy of it. The museum's press spokesperson who had told me this has now apologized to me for her error: Unbeknownst to her when we spoke, Beal did, in fact, have a copy.]
When I requested a copy of the report earlier today, a spokesperson for Orr’s office told me this:
The Emergency Manager is testifying today in federal bankruptcy court….It will not be released until after the EM has reviewed it.
Issued this afternoon from the “cloud of unknowing” was this statement from the museum, which preemptively deflects the requests for comment that will surely bombard it once Christie’s report is released to the general public:
Detroit Institute of Arts Statement on Christie’s Evaluation
The Detroit Institute of Arts maintains its position that the City of Detroit and the museum hold the art collection in trust for the citizens of Detroit and Michigan. This report mirrors the preliminary report issued by Christies, with the addition of an itemized list [emphasis added].
The museum does not intend to comment on the report [emphasis added]. An earlier statement regarding Christie’s suggestions for “monetizing” the DIA collection has been slightly amended and is below. Beyond that, we suggest that specific questions be directed to Christie’s [which, in turn, will probably defect questions to the the emergency manager].
Detroit Institute of Arts Statement on Ideas for Monetizing the Collection
Four of the five alternatives outlined by Christie’s [my link, not theirs] have already been addressed by the DIA in some detail. In most cases, these alternatives will yield a token amount of money, while placing the collection at substantial risk.
The only new idea is the “Masterpiece Trust,” and it is completely untested. Further complicating the trust alternative is the lack of specifics and the lack of an economic imperative for participation. With some exceptions, museums generally loan works of art free of charge except for packing and shipping fees. How a “Masterpiece Trust” would be received in the museum community remains to be seen.
The DIA remains willing to engage in further discussions and is actively supporting the plan developed by the appointed mediators [my link, not theirs] Chief Judge Gerald Rosen and Eugene Driker. The museum continues to be open to all ideas for assisting in the revitalization of Detroit, provided we are able to ensure the safety of the collection we hold in public trust.
If and when the “itemized list” of DIA works and their purported fair market values is publicly released, it will likely set off a firestorm of controversy over whether the valuations are, in fact, “right” and what exactly should be done with this information.
However it plays out, this is sure to be a grossly inappropriate and unwarranted exercise. There is a good reason why museums traditionally value their collections on their balance sheets at zero dollars. As Michigan’s attorney general unequivocally stated in his 22-page opinion, museum collections are held in trust for the public and are not to be treated as liquid assets.
We can only hope that this time-honored principle will continue to be honored in Detroit, and that the museum’s masterpieces will be valued in one way only—as treasured jewels in the crown of the city’s revival.