Postrel: Detroit's Van Gogh is Worth More in a Growing City


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.

Whole thing here.

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.

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  1. Remove “jewels” from the City of Detroit? DAT’S RAAACIST!

    It was better here when Virginia Postrel….was not being….RAAAAACIST!

  2. Wolverine’s been to Hell before. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as Detroit.

  3. Is this a ‘modest proposal’?
    If Detroit sells it, where do you think the money will go?

    1. In 6 months it will all be gone, and Detroit will be as big a dump as ever. Sans art collection.

      1. It ain’t gonna be sold. It’s a public trust.

        Michigan’s AG has weighed in and will make sure no fire sale occurs.

  4. The comments at that site are a nightmare. With citizens like that, no wonder Detroit is a crime-infested hellhole.

  5. Van Gogh painted Wolverine? So maybe he really has been around a while.

  6. The best part is, last November they put a tax on residents of the three metro-detroit counties to pay for the DIA. With it, residents get free admission (except to special events, that I’m sure will become more common.)

    1. “They”?

      It was a bond measure, not a “tax.”

      The people overwhelmingly support their great art museum. By every measure – local visitors, members, financial support – the Detroit Institute of Art is far more popular than Postrel foolishly claims.

  7. Dude this makes a whole lot of sense man Wow.

  8. Nick – you’ve botched Postrel’s argument, which was itself weak and self-contradicting. Art in public museums isn’t valued the way private assets are.

    Also, could you please stop perpetuating Postrel’s bogus meme that the Detroit Institute of Art isn’t popular.

    The DIA attracted over 500,000 visitors last year, nearly all of whom are locals – far more, relative to the local population, than the Getty or any of the other sunbelt museums Postrel cites. The DIA has 50% more members than Postrel’s preferred Dallas Museum of Art. The residents of the metro are overwhelmingly supported a bond measure to fund the DIA.

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