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Breaking: Schjeldahl Retracts

Not kidding, this just in: WHAT SHOULD DETROIT DO WITH ITS ART?: THE SEQUEL — published on the New Yorker website.

Among his comments:

I retract my hasty opinion for two specific reasons, and because I have a sounder grasp of the issues involved. 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….

…Finally, some acute attacks have shown me the indefensibility of my position. For example, from a blogger, would I “suggest that Greece sell the Parthenon to pay its crippling national debt”? The principle of cultural patrimony is indeed germane, and it should be sacred.

That last was from Hrag Vartanian, which I highlighted here.


  1. Andrew Decker says

    I’ve never quite understood the British claim about cultural patrimony – that they could block the export of a Raphael drawing, not because it was by a British artist, but because it was a work that had been purchased overseas by a wealthy Brit at a time when the country had boundless wealth. So I guess it makes sense in terms of the country’s matching the price or letting it go: either they’re still wealthy enough to own it or they’re not.

    The Parthenon and Greece is different. With all due respect to all involved. the Raphael is not part of British patrimony in terms of contributing something to the development of art history. The Parthenon, by contrast, grew out of Greek wealth and its artists. It is a central part of Greek culture and identity. Is the van Gogh self portrait part of Detroit’s identity? The Breughel? Maybe they are – Detroit created wealth, and they are a testament to that, or kids in Detroit should be free to find great works in the city’s museums – or maybe they’re simply a vestige of an era long gone.

    Whatever the rational case, they are work of art that I would like to see remain in Detroit. America needs to offer its citizens something more than reproductions or regional works of art, however good they may be. The patrimony argument, to me, is nonsense. Detroit’s citizens overall aren’t Dutch or German, or at this point members of a Guilded Age or later. But they are, as are all people in our country, entitled – oops, wrong word? – to know first hand the experience of seeing a great work of art.

    It’s not patrimony since it’s not our art, any more than the Parthenon is. But it is a reflection of ambitions and hopes towards greatness.

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