Update: New Yorker Art Critic Now Says DIA Should NOT Sell Works

July 26, 2013, 9:58 PM

Well, that didn't take long.

Two days after suggesting that Detroit sell its museum holdings to provide more money for pensioners, New Yorker art critic  Peter Schjeldahl apologizes for "my hasty opinion" in a dramatic reversal.

I take back my endorsement, in an earlier post, of the idea that the city of Detroit should ease its financial crisis by selling art works from the collection of the Detroit Institute of the Arts. I also apologize to the many whom my words pained. . . .

Some acute attacks have shown me the indefensibility of my position. . . . I am now persuaded that a sale of the D.I.A.’s art, besides making merely a dent in Detroit’s debt, could not conceivably bring dollar-for-dollar relief to the city’s pensioners. 

He backpedals "because I have a sounder grasp of the issues involved."

How about that? A journalist at a venerable magazine in America's media capital admits he popped off without a solid understanding of what he was writing about. This could be a historic date.

-- Alan Stamm    

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Thursday morning article:

Peter Schjeldahl, longtime art critic for the New Yorker, has staked out a contrarian position when it comes to the increasingly divisive issue of whether Detroit should sell its valuable artwork given that bond holders and, most importantly, pensioners, could be taking significant haircuts.

 He writes in a blog post:

The fiscal apocalypse that is Detroit has spun off a collateral storm in the art world with a suggestion that salvific funds — an estimate of two billion dollars is much bandied — could be raised by selling treasures of the Detroit Institute of Arts, one of America’s best encyclopedic museums. Having been asked my opinion as an art-lover — and, incidentally, a citizen, though not of Detroit — I have two answers. Here’s the short one: sell. The long one, which follows, ends in the same place, only garlanded with regrets.

He concludes:

The clincher for me was voiced by a spokesman for the state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn D. Orr. Nora Caplan-Bricker [writing in The New Republic] commendably quotes it from The Times: “It’s hard to go to a pensioner on a fixed income and say, ‘We’re going to cut 20 percent of your income or 30 percent or whatever the number is, but art is eternal.’ ” To expatiate: Vita brevis, ars longa. Art will survive. The pensioner will not. I do not view the impending decision as a close call.

Same-day pushback to Wednesday's post comes from a four-year-old Brooklyn art blog called Hyperallergic. Its editor, Hrag Vartanian, writes:

It is a frighteningly dumb suggestion, by a man who doesn’t seem to understand the scale, the circumstances, the history or the reality of what that would even mean — or what a bankruptcy really is. . . .

Peter Schjeldahl has you believe that Cézannes will be directly saving helpless pensioners from starvation, but that view is naive to the point of comedy even before you consider the full implications of his argument.

It’s not surprising that when the going gets tough the first impulse is to think of art as an asset, since it is an idea that has been peddled by investment people and money managers for years. . . . What Schjeldahl doesn’t even mention, and I fear he doesn’t know, is that many of the valuable works cannot even be sold because they are under legal agreements by donors.

Read more:  The New Yorker

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