The Detroit Institute of Arts Subpoenaed by the City’s Creditors

The Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Photo: courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Detroit’s creditors are hungry, and they are clearly still hoping to get their hands on the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) collection. As reported by the Art Newspaper, the imperiled museum has been hit with subpoenas for everything from financial records and tax returns to visitor figures and ownership history for all of DIA’s 60,000 artworks.  

In February, artnet News reported that Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr had proposed a so-called “grand bargain” that would have eased the city’s debts without an art fire sale at the Institute, and the art world breathed a collective sigh of relief. As an incentive to finalize an agreement, Orr amended the terms on Monday, adding a penalty for Detroit retirees if the settlement is not reached quickly. 

Although the plan would have seen DIA, the state of Michigan, and a number of foundations contribute $816 million to the city’s pension fund, that doesn’t appear to be enough for creditors. As a provision of the deal, they would have to waive any claim over the DIA collection. 

Last year, DIA arranged for Christie’s to appraise the art acquired with city funding, but the new subpoenas cover the entire collection. Some creditors believe that initial assessment of $454–867 million is too low.

The creditors are not the only ones who think it might be worthwhile to sell off the museum’s artwork. An economics piece in the New York Times this week estimates that displaying Pieter Bruegel’s The Wedding Dance (circa 1566), worth up to $200 million by Christie’s reckoning, could cost the museum as much as $1,200 an hour.

It has yet to be seen if a judge will grant the subpoenas in full, but gathering even a fraction of the demanded paperwork is likely to be huge burden for the museum’s staff, who over-extended as it is.

Last week, artnet News asked itself “Has the art world failed Detroit?” With this latest news, it appears the answer may be yes.


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