Bankrupt Detroit May Force Museum to Sell Van Gogh and Degas Paintings

rodin for sale

If you’ve been hanging around hoping that the bankruptcy of Detroit will let you get your hands on a Rodin or Van Gogh, you just might be in luck. Before Detroit became known as the biggest scrapyard and ghetto in the country, it had arts and culture. Enough of them to fill the Detroit Institute of Art with a serious collection worth a few billion.

But these days Detroit doesn’t need art. The average Detroit resident thinks art is a guy who sells heroin down the block. And he’s probably right.

Detroit needs money. And the Detroit Institute of Art is hearing the clarion call of “Show me the Matisses.”

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr is considering whether the multibillion-dollar collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts should be considered city assets that potentially could be sold to cover about $15 billion in debt.

How much is the art at the DIA worth? Nobody knows exactly, but several billion dollars might well be a low estimate

DIA patron A. Alfred Taubman said this evening that “it would be a crime” to sell any of the DIA’s collection to satisfy city creditors.

“I’m sure Mr. Orr, once he thinks about it, will certainly not choose that as one of the assets,” Taubman said. “It’s not just an asset of Detroit. It’s an asset of the country.”

Which is why some part of the country that isn’t always on fire should probably have it instead of Detroit.

Bill Nowling, a spokesman for Orr, said the art collection at the DIA must, however reluctantly, be considered one of the city’s assets in the current financial emergency as the city heads toward a possible bankruptcy filing.

“The creditors can really force the issue,” Nowling said. “If you go into court, they can object and say, ‘Hey, I’m taking a huge haircut, and you’ve got a billion dollars worth of art sitting over there.’ ”

The possible forced sale of some of the DIA’s greatest treasures — including some of the world’s most famous paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Henri Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, and scores of other masterpieces, is sending shock waves through the museum world.

Just wait till the pain spreads beyond Detroit as more blue cities head for bankruptcy. And if city leaders have to choose between union pensions, welfare and Rodin… Rodin has got to go.

“There would be hue and cry the likes of which you’ve never heard,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, D.C. “The museum should be a rallying point for the rebirth of Detroit and not a source of funds.”

Museums alone don’t lead to the rebirth of cities. People do. And Detroit doesn’t have people anymore. It just has people who are too lazy to leave.

Art dealers in New York and metro Detroit reviewed a list of 38 of the greatest masterpieces owned by the museum and estimated a market value of at least $2.5 billion with pieces such as Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait” and Matisse’s “The Window” all carrying estimates of between $100 million and $150 million each.

If anyone at the DIA had good taste, they would have already dumped the Matisse. The Van Gogh self-portrait is not the famous one you’re thinking of. And the Bruegel is kitsch. But the DIA also has an undervalued Caravaggio and a better Van Gogh. It also has one of Rodin’s The Thinker sculptures, seen above. And a rather nice Degas.

But personally I’ve got my eye on this painting. It sums up things nicely.



    Running museums is not a proper function of the government in the first place. Sell the art to private collectors and museums, and close the DIA. Then fire some government workers, get regulation and taxation under control, and see if any businesses can be persuaded to return to the city.

  • AdinaK

    The Demsters have been attempting to turn major urban areas into basket cases for years, and under Obama Inc they had several years to plunge the knife in their backs. And some cities will surely succumb faster than others. The fact of the matter is that a dependent, welfare class IS the goal, and allowing millions of illegal aliens to become "legal" will tip many other cities into the same direction.

    If anyone is shocked by what is happening they haven't been paying attention to the results of race/class warfare politics. Leftist dogma is the same world over and it is the bane of the west –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel

  • objectivefactsmatter

    "DIA patron A. Alfred Taubman said this evening that “it would be a crime” to sell any of the DIA’s collection to satisfy city creditors."

    Next line: "Those Republicans destroying the nation again."

  • ProudLiberal

    Feeding the poor is so much more important than art. Art is a burgeois affectation.

    • Mary Sue

      Featherbedding the Unions is NOT feeding the poor.

    • UCSPanther

      Looks like we have ourselves a commie here…

    • Lanie

      The destruction of art by the totalitarians, or the confiscation of it for their personal pleasure, is their way of dismissing individuality and the human imagination which they can't tolerate. Their anti-God ideology can't explain why, if man is merely an intelligent animal, his imagination and creative processes are something chimpanzees don't exhibit.

    • RebeccaJean

      Sell the art. But once the art is sold than what? How about creating an economic climate in which the poor can feed themselves. Perhaps their leaders should look to those cities that are thriving to get some ideas. I realize most of those cities are run by Republicans, but when your city in such dire straights that it is considering pilfering it's museums to get money, you really don't have the luxury of being picky.

  • Americano

    Such a fine job the Progressive Democrats have done. Just look at lovley, downtown Detroit. Isn't just the kind of place that you'd want to raise YOUR family in (sarc)?
    The fact of the matter is that I wouldn't send my dog or my worst enemy into Detroit. It's become a dump. More examples of progressivism in action.
    Makes me laught to think about Michael Moore's film "Roger & Me", where he's complaining about all of the manufacturing shutting down and people being out of work and his town dying. He blamed Republicans and Big Corporations. He should be thanking the Democratic Party. They're the ones who have been running Detroit.
    Utopia has a price, people, and it's a high one.

    • UCSPanther

      Often as not, they create dystopias in their blind quest to create unattainable utopias.

      Detroit is a post-apocalyptic Detroit, where they may as well put up a sign that says "Abandon hope. all ye who enter here" on the roadways into the city.

      • UCSPanther

        I meant "Post-apocalyptic city"

    • jakespoon

      It seems that the progressives don't realize that the only thing that people can share equally is misery. You can't make everyone happy all the time,but you CAN make every one miserable all the time. That way everyone is equal. Or maybe they do realize it.

    • gee59

      Americano – I would. Detroit would be greatly enhanced with the addition of say 1 million members of Hamas

  • Rianna Richards

    There we go! Detroit is going bankrupt and where is our President Barack Hussein Obama? The people of Detroit need your help Mr. President! The people of Detroit needs more help than the pathetic war in Syria. If I were the President of the United States, I will take care of the needy American people first – that's what you call "LOYAL & Love of Country" — Americans first Mr. President Barack Hussein Obama NOT the Syrian War!

    • derekcrane

      Please no!!!! The help from Obama would be just another burden on the American taxpayer. Let Detroit bail out Detroit. Start by selling the art.

  • 4_Constitution

    You're going to see Democrat cities across America file for bankruptcy in the coming months. Then it will spread to other parts of the country even Red states. It will look like falling Dominoes.

    • Kevin Stowell

      Definitely regressive-run. I don't know that Dem/Rep means that much in these situations. Good day to you, FC.

  • BS77

    Even if they sell the art, in a few months or a year, the city will be in another financial crisis and again going bankrupt….because Detroit has no jobs, no manufacturing, no assembly lines anymore. IT is a welfare basket case….all the capital is gone, the businesses have moved and the city is in chaos. Also a huge number of people who formerly lived in Detroit have moved away. Not a pretty picture. Detroit needs a completely new economic and political team to lead the Detroit Reformation. Maybe Facebook could look into it.

  • Lanie

    The problem with Detroit and the state of Michigan is its leaders had no vision and blindly assumed the car manufacturer's would support the state eternally. The Progressives claim diversity is the key to success yet they had no diversity in their economy. The people became dependent upon the Mafia run unions to support them and wonder why their saviors have abandoned them.

  • Harry Black

    The problem with Detroit is that the auto companies deserted it, but Greenfield blames the victim–Detroit's jobless black working class– for the companies' inability during the 1970s and 1980s to compete with Japanese automakers. Moreover, the DIA is supported locally by a tax–the millage–voted in by the residents of Oakland and Macomb counties as well as Wayne (where Detroit is located)–and it is, as Alfred Taubman says, a national asset. Also, what exactly makes the Bruegel, a wonderful painting according to most critics, "kitsch"? And shouldn't a commentator on art know how to spell the name of Caravaggio?

  • Gary Arseneau

    May 29, 2013

    The City of Detroit may be bankrupt but the Detroit Institute of Art has been bankrupt for decades.

    Click on this link to learn more:

    Caveat Emptor!

    Gary Arseneau

    artist, creator of original lithographs & scholar

    Fernandina Beach, Florida