Is Selling DIA Really Such a Bad Idea?

Peter Schjeldahl should be fired.


This is Hrag Vartanian in high dudgeon over The New Yorker art critic's suggestion that Detroit sell the Detroit Institute of Arts, among the best art museums in the country.

First of all, Schjeldahl shouldn't be fired for voicing his opinion. His basic argument–that in the hierarchy of needs, art is pretty low for Detroit right now–is valid, even if you don't agree with it.

Schjeldahl makes another, more subtle but no less important point: art and its institutions are two separate things. The modernist avant-garde was dedicated to making precisely this point. Even if the city hangs on to DIA, there's no guarantee its collection will remain intact.

To my mind, selling DIA is probably short-sighted, and Vartanian is right in pointing out that bankruptcies are more complicated than Schjeldahl seems to realize. The big banks are going to get paid in full before the pensioners see a dime from the sale of the Rembrandts. 

Yet the proposal to sell DIA shouldn't be dismissed out of hand if some equitable means can be found to sell it. The loss of the museum, literally, would be an incalculable loss to the city. But the loss of the city of Detroit would be an incalculable loss to the country. I love art, but a city is worth more than a museum.

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