Detroit art safe after all... Judge rules that selling city's collection as part of its bankruptcy proceedings is not within his purview

The scores of old masters held by the Detroit Institute of Arts might have fetched hundreds of millions of dollars at auction

It looks like Detroit’s public art collection is set to stay in the city for the public to enjoy after a federal judge today said that requiring it to be sold as part of its bankruptcy proceedings is not within his purview.

A large question mark had been hanging over scores of old masters held by the Detroit Institute of Arts ever since the city sought bankruptcy protection last year because of the hundreds of millions of dollars they might have fetched at auction that could have potentially gone to help the city slash debt and meet pension obligations.

Several foundations had already stepped forward to express their willingness to fill any gap that might be left by a decision not to sell the art. And the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, unveiled a $350 million aid package for Detroit, also to help meet the pension costs.

The judge’s ruling means that the next step in sale process - a full appraisal of any art held by the DIA that had been paid for by city funds – will no longer go ahead. Already, the Christies auction house had done a preliminary assessment that had conservatively put the collection’s value at between $452 million and $866 million.

Judge Steven W. Rhodes said he had been informed in his ruling in party by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s statement in June that the “art collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts is held by the City of Detroit in charitable trust for the people of Michigan, and no piece in the collection may thus be sold, conveyed, or transferred to satisfy city debts or obligations”.

The foundations and other charities have together promised to pay $330 towards paying off the city’s pension obligations in exchange for preserving the collection as part of Motown’s heritage. As part of the arrangement, however, the works would be transferred from the DIA to a private museum but still within city boundaries.

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