The threat of pieces from the Detroit Institute of Arts being sold off popped up in the news again today. I've been stewing over my professional response for a few months. (I used to curate exhibitions and deal American works of art — artists like Alexander Calder, William Merritt Chase, Mary Cassatt with "mid level" price points, $30,000-500,000. One of my previous clients is a well-known collector and avid supporter and lender to the DIA).
When asked, I gave my personal response. Personally, I was adamantly against it. It seemed like a cop out to commodify our regional treasures. Like many in the art community, and particularly those of us that have visited the DIA and relish memories and works from the collection, I was vehemently against this ghastly idea. At first.
Now don't get me wrong. I still think it's terribly sad and agree with the Museum that it may have a detrimental effect on Detroit's daily and longterm economy but there are a few silver linings, at least from an art world standpoint. Here are a few reasons why.
WE DON'T GET TO SEE MOST OF IT ANYWAY. Museums are fancy storage facilities with exact humidity and temperature control. Some things they show, the majority they do not. They simply can't. During conversations with colleagues in the industry, I've heard estimates that the Art Institute of Chicago shows less than a quarter of its collection. The DIA has 66,000 of which 35,000 are said to be owned by the city and being evaluated for condition and appraised by Christie's. I don't know exactly how much of their collection but we are indeed missing the bulk of it when we visit.
THESE ART WORKS WILL GET THEIR DUE SPOTLIGHT. Auctions are the barometer of the art industry accounting for about 25% of the market. Even though only a minute percentage will ever dabble in multi-million dollar bidding wars, when auctions do well, the trickle down effect for the art industry is a good one. It's estimated that in 2012, the art industry did $64 billion.
If and when the DIA's paintings, sculptures, drawings and objects go to auction they're going to be waltzed across a global stage. Every collector that will potentially ever want that piece is going to be watching and that's just what those pieces deserve.
AND, WAR PUMPS UP SALES FOR ARTISTS. EVEN FOR US LITTLE GUYS DOWN HERE. Let's look at an example. Maybe twenty people in the world that collect art want this triptych: