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Valuing Art, Trusts, and Return to the Beginning

In: Valuing Detroit’s Art Museum


  • Jeffrey Abt

    (Wayne State University)


Early in August 2013 Orr announced he was hiring outside experts to appraise “the full range of city assets” such as parking meters and garages, parks, including Belle Isle located in the Detroit River, other publicly owned land, the Detroit–Windsor Tunnel, the Coleman A. Young International Airport (a small, old private-use airport), and the DIA. Orr followed through on the proposal Christie’s auction house prepared earlier in the summer to appraise about 2800 works in the museum’s collections—just those purchased with City of Detroit funds—and to “advise the city whether or not there are ways to create a cash flow from the art without giving up [its] ownership.” The works included many of the museum’s most significant and valuable holdings including the Bruegel and Van Gogh (Figs. 2.2 and 4.7), as well as a Rembrandt and Degas (Figs. 6.1 and 6.2). By confining the appraisal to city-purchased works, Orr enabled Christie’s to concentrate on a more practical, if still-rushed, number of pieces to be evaluated. But there were other reasons too. Of the remaining nearly 62,000 works in the collection, a large but uncertain number had donor restrictions concerning the works’ future disposition. By focusing on just those for which the city’s “title is more clear,” Orr could avoid “hundreds of lawsuits” likely to be filed if it sold pieces given by third parties. Then too, Orr and his allies may have been concerned about public relations. When they and the museum’s leadership squared off for “the fight that clearly was going to be coming,” Beal observed, it might “seem more reasonable” to most outside observers if Detroit sold only those artworks acquired with city funds.1

Suggested Citation

  • Jeffrey Abt, 2017. "Valuing Art, Trusts, and Return to the Beginning," Palgrave Studies in American Economic History, in: Valuing Detroit’s Art Museum, chapter 0, pages 193-235, Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Handle: RePEc:pal:psichp:978-3-319-45219-7_6
    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-45219-7_6

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