Former Reason editor Virginia Postrel has a very provocative column up at Bloomberg View. The setup is this: Detroit is basically broke but has a publicly owned museum with a number of high-value artworks by the likes of van Gogh and Matisse. The museum in Detroit isn't just located in a shrinking city; it actually has a tiny number of visitors as these things go. Postrel suggests that Motown city fathers sell the best of their collection to a city on the grow. That would not only pump some dollars into Detroit's coffers, it would put the art in places - Los Angeles, Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth - where more people could enjoy it.
Great artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region. The cause of art would be better served if they were sold to institutions in growing cities where museum attendance is more substantial and the visual arts are more appreciated than they’ve ever been in Detroit. Art lovers should stop equating the public good with the status quo....
Letting the [LA-based] Getty add the Canaletto view of the Piazza San Marco now in Detroit wouldn’t constitute a rape or a bonfire of the vanities. Hanging Van Gogh’s self-portrait alongside his “Irises” at the Getty or Bellini’s Madonna near his “Christ Blessing” at [Ft. Worth's] Kimbell would not betray the public trust. It would enhance it.
In a follow-up piece, Postrel talks about how cash-strapped Fisk University partnered with a Walmart heiress to share the university's good but under-visited collection.