The nearly 2,800 city-owned artworks at the Detroit Institute of Arts are worth $454 million US to $867 million US, with one masterpiece by Van Gogh worth up to $150 million, Christie's auction house says in a report released Thursday.
The New York-based auction house spent months determining the collection's fair market value after Detroit filed for bankruptcy last summer. Its findings were submitted in the long-awaited report to Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager, Kevin Orr.
Top art museum
The Detroit Institute of Arts is considered one of the top art museums in the country. The auction house valued one work, Van Gogh's Self Portrait with Straw Hat, at $80 million to $150 million. Other famous artists' work appraised by Christie's included the oil painting Le gueridon by Henri Matisse at $40 million to $80 million, Claude Monet's Gladioli at $12 million to $20 million, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir's Graziella at $1.8 million to $3 million.
Orr, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in March, has said city-owned art in the museum can be considered an asset and could be vulnerable during a bankruptcy. He filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the city in July, and federal Judge Steven Rhodes approved the petition Dec. 3.
Detroit's debt is at least $18 billion, which includes $5.7 billion in unfunded retiree health care obligations and $3.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, according to Orr.
Retirees and pensioners worry that they will be forced to take huge cuts in benefits and pensions during the city's financial restructuring.
Philanthropist pledges $5M
Detroit-area philanthropist A. Paul Schaap and his wife, Carol, have pledged $5 million to help offset expected losses by city pensioners in Orr's restructuring plan and help prevent the sale of the artwork. And the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has set up an online donation page to protect the art by raising money to support city pensions.
The foundation stepped up after U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is acting as chief mediator between Detroit and its creditors, asked foundations to raise $500 million to keep the artwork from being sold.
Orr is expected to present a plan of adjustment for fiscal restructuring to the court in early January that will include his recommendations for the art.
Orr hired Christie's this summer for $200,000 to appraise the artwork. Christie's said pieces bought by the city of Detroit represent about five percent of the museum's estimated 66,000-work collection.