Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bruegel in Detroit

How did Pieter Bruegel the Elder's "The Wedding Dance" end up in the Detroit Institute of Art? It was purchased by the city for the museum, true, but whose idea was it to buy it? And what kind of discussions went on in the offices of city power over whether to buy it or not? I would love to know the back story of how it ended up where it did. Unfortunately, whether it stays in that beleaguered city remains to be seen.

Detroit is a broken city, buried in debt. Just yesterday, the New York Times reported on a federal ruling holding that the city could formally enter bankruptcy and that city pensions were "not inviolable." Now, the city's creditors and a host of economists, politicians, art world professionals, and lawyers are vying for a say in what happens to DIA's collection. They say the art collection is a city asset and selling it to raise capital to service the debt should be considered. If legally binding pensions are in jeopardy, is there any doubt the art is going to the auction block?

DIA's director, Graham W. J. Beal, thinks not. He stated so in a September 2013 post on DIA's blog, writing that the museum has " intention of breaching the most fundamental tenet of the art museum world: that art in the collection can only be sold to acquire more (and better) art." Unfortunately, when it all plays out, the director may be powerless in deciding what happens to the collection he oversees. And what happens in Detroit may have wider ramifications. Other cities across America will no doubt face similar dilemmas in the future. It's not too far a stretch to think that other major public collections around the country could one day end up being sold to pay down city or state debt.

What will happen to "The Wedding Dance" or to the great Diego Rivera murals that adorn the walls of the building itself?

The Wedding Dance, 1566

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