Update: L.A. Writer's DIA Column Ignites Local Firestorm

June 07, 2013, 2:40 PM by  Alan Stamm

Los Angeles culture writer Virginia Postrel has become an online piñata after suggesting that "great artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region." 

She slaps the DIA in a provocative Bloomberg View commentary, which suggests Metro Detroit doesn't deserve a world-class public art collection.

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. 

Pushback is fast and furious.

Eric Baerren, blogging at Michigan Liberal, dubs Postrel "upper-class twit of the year" and summarizes her position this way:

"Let me pick over the bones of Detroit and take its art to places where I can look at it without setting foot in Michigan."

Michael Burhans of Midland shares this interpretation on Facebook:

"I see what Virginia Postrel is really saying.  Detroit is mostly minorities. They do not deserve to see great art. It should be where the white folk can truly appreciate it. Ms Postrel, as a Detroit lover, let me suggest you go perform an anatomically impossible act."

DIA marketing director Christine Kloostra is more restrained in a response on a friend's Facebook page. Responding to Postrel's claim that visual arts are unbder-appreciated here, she says: "Our 220,000+ Facebook fans outrank the Getty's (160,000) and the Dallas Museum of Arts' (44,000) combined."

She cites those two collections because the Bloomberg column says the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth are "well-endowed" and deserving sites for possible liquidation pickings from Detroit. "Both have cultures that . . . put a high value on the visual arts," Postrel writes

"Great artworks shouldn’t be held hostage by a relatively unpopular museum in a declining region," writes Virginia Postrel. [Photo by Mark Harmel]

That and other statements led Robert Lee Hart, a Deadline Detroit reader in Birmingham, to post on Facebook:

"This LA lady is arrogant beyond belief. But make no mistake, the vultures are circling."

The commentary writer joins the debate in comments under this article and on Twitter, where she replies to DIA defender Martha Shea of Berkley by saying: "Don't confuse hoarding w/ public spirit."

Postrel, a former editor of Reason magazine, sees "a properly structured sale" to satisfy Detroit creditors as appropriate and allowable.

Suggestions that the museum can’t sell major works without risking violations of donor intent are disingenuous. The issue might arise with obscure works or recent acquisitions, but the records for the most valuable pieces are right on the museum’s website. The city bought those works, it owns them and it should be able to sell them. . . .

if buyers were limited to other museums, possibly even to museums in the U.S., the works wouldn’t disappear from public view. . . .The public trust is no less served by art in Atlanta, Phoenix or Seattle than it is by art in Detroit.

Here's a sampling of other responses on social media and under Thursday evening's Bloomberg essay:

  • Rod Arroyo, Beverly Hills: "Detroit's transformation to a successful city will in large part be due to the irreplaceable assets of the city, including great architecture and cultural resources like the DIA. The DIA is a key ingredient that will fuel future resurgence and growth."
  • Neal Rubin, Farmington: "How 'bout we keep the Van Gogh and give them our pro football team?"
  • Nancy Nall Derringer, Grosse Pointe Woods: "God, what an odious twit."
  • Andy Hawkes, Warren: "I am really speechless [about] the level of ignorance here." 
  • Kevin A. Wilson, Livonia: "The land of illusions and delusions wants our art? I think we gave some tax breaks so they could make a film here that includes our response: Get Off My Lawn!"
  • Michelle Hintz, Owosso: "Disgusting, elitist and selfish. Detroit doesn't deserve to keep its art collection because the DIA's attendance doesn't match that of a museum in a city of 3.8 million?  . . . I enjoy experiencing art all over the world and am appalled that there are art lovers who would promote the destruction of a museum that is cherished and needed by its community." 
  • Michael Huget, Ann Arbor: "Postrel equates having money with a greater appreciation of the arts and this is taken seriously?"
  • Juana Moore, Ferndale: "How do you imagine the DIA is an unpopular museum? Do you have some kind of data to back up this assertion? The tri-county area just voted to support the museum for the next decade. . . Please get over yourself."
  • Randy Kasper, Sterling Heights: "With the words of a true elitist you write. Let's assume that all the negative things that you say about Detroit are true --  where better to house the art than in a city that needs it? It's also a city and surrounding suburbs that appreciates the museum, as was shown by a millage increase to support the museum."
  • Clare Pfeiffer, Detroit: "It's LA, so we could probably just send them a few of those plastic DIA InsideOut replicas and they wouldn't notice. The more plastic the better."
  • Courtney Jo-Dempsey Burkett, Detroit: "Wow. Super offensive."
  • Pam Kirchen, Ann Arbor: "What an elitist, 1% response. Grrr. Let's not let this happen to the DIA. It feels so bad and is so very wrong."​- Alan Stamm

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