It's not known if the Joe Louis fist is on the 'Works of Arts Detail' list. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
As it turns out, the world-famous collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts isn’t the only art trove owned by the financially strapped city of Detroit.
With a federal judge this week scrutinizing Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy protection, The Detroit News has discovered a spreadsheet buried in the city’s 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report that lists a wealth of other city-owned art and collectibles with a value of $30 million.
The document, “Works of Arts Detail,” cites 40 categories, each with a dollar value ranging from a high of $19 million for unspecified “Art Exhibits” to a low of $26,650 for “Textiles.” Other line items include “Statue, Horse & Rider, Bronze, 12 F” valued at $28,653, Belle Isle’s “Scott Memorial Fountain” at $43,560, and a “Native American Collection” pegged at $1.07 million. Coming in at $2.18 million is “Non-Scheduled Collections, Tools, Dolls, Costumes, Textiles Etc.,” while “Commemorative Plate W/ Granite Base” pulls $268,000.
It’s unclear when the list was created. And in a city scrambling for whatever money it can find — and debating whether to sell assets — nobody seems to know about the spreadsheet or items listed in it with generic titles like “Sculpture” ($178,500.) The News asked about the document over five weeks, but city officials wouldn’t discuss specifics about the holdings or plans for them.
A spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr didn’t return calls or emails, and Mayor Dave Bing declined comment beyond a written statement.
“The spreadsheet of the City-owned art represents a list of known, but unaudited assets,” Bing’s statement read. “There has been no reason to obtain an updated appraisal of these items since the values listed represent a relatively small portion of the City’s total assets.”
Unanswered is whether some of Detroit’s most iconic works of public art, like the Joe Louis fist (officially “Monument to Joe Louis”) or the statue in Capitol Park honoring Gov. Stevens T. Mason, are included. It’s also unclear whether there’s any consideration of liquidating the works.
Of course, $30 million is small change compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars the DIA’s Rembrandts, van Goghs and Renoirs are said to be worth, but it’s still real money for a city with $18.5 billion in debts it can’t pay.
Detroit has hired Christie’s to appraise the DIA’s collection, but Monday’s opening arguments on eligibility before Judge Steven Rhodes further muddied the question of whether Orr intends to try to auction fine art.
“There are no sales possible without significant change in current management of the museum and/or litigation,” said city lawyer Bruce Bennett. He did not elaborate.
Several officials said they had no knowledge of the spreadsheet.
“This is the first time this document has been brought to our attention,” said Detroit Historical Museum spokesman Bob Sadler. “We are looking into it, but can’t comment until we investigate the specifics and determine how factual it is.”
Recreation Department Director Alicia T. Minter echoed that sentiment in an email exchange Friday: “I would need to investigate.”
There’s also a question of accuracy. The spreadsheet lists “Anchor, Edmund Fitzgerald” ($267,980) as a Recreation Department asset. But Sadler said the anchor of the freighter that sank in Lake Superior in 1975 is at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and has always been part of the Historical Museum’s collection.
If famous statues such as the “Spirit of Detroit” outside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center are included in the asset list, they would likely pull significant sums at auction, said local art historian and curator Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz.
He said “Spirit” was done by noted local artist Marshall Fredericks and that world-famous California sculptor Robert Graham created “the fist.”
Graham’s all-time auction high was $390,000 at Sotheby’s in 2007, Spoutz said, “but nothing by Graham as large in size or historic significance as ‘Monument to Joe Louis’ has been offered at auction.” Spoutz said it could pull between $1 million and $2 million.
Fredericks’ work commands much less, with a 2012 high at DuMouchelle’s of $72,000 for a bronze sculpture titled “Leaping Gazelle.” But owing to the “Spirit of Detroit’s” fame and historical significance, Spoutz added, “It probably would sell for in excess of $1 million.”
Holdings of the Detroit Public Library are not among the document’s assets, nor are they thought to be vulnerable in Detroit’s bankruptcy. A 1901 law established the library as an independent corporation within the state’s educational system.