July 9, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Report: Total value of DIA art ranges from $1.1B to $4.6B

A New York art investment firm brought in to appraise the full collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts puts its total value between $1.1 billion and $4.6 billion.

Artvest Partners principal Michael Plummer was hired by the DIA and the city to prepare an “expert report” on the museum’s value in response to claims by some creditors that an earlier Christie’s appraisal grossly undervalued the collection. The Artvest report was released by the city Wednesday.

In its appraisal, Christie’s examined only 2,800 works bought with city of Detroit funds — a practice that ended by 1955 — because they were thought to have the fewest legal restrictions on any potential sale. Christie’s estimated that selling those pieces would pull in no more than $866 million.

The wide spread in valuation reflects the uncertainty of the art market, the report said, as well as the potential impact on prices were a great number of DIA artworks to hit the auction block at the same time. The report noted that prices for most categories of valuable art, with the exception of post-war and contemporary art, have plateaued and in some cases declined from highs set in 2011.

“This is the first comprehensive valuation of the entire DIA collection,” said Bill Nowling, spokesman for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. “The report makes it abundantly clear that selling art to settle debt will not generate the kind of revenue the city’s creditors claim it will.” He added that the $816 million that the “grand bargain” would deliver is still the best bet for both the museum and the city’s pensioners.

The Artvest report actually distinguished between estimates of the collection’s worth, and what it could actually bring in the real world were it all put up at once — the likely scenario were creditors like Syncora to succeed in their efforts to force a fire sale.

So while the report pegged the low end of the collection’s fair-market worth at $2.8 billion, a quick sale of the museum’s holdings, it suggested, would only bring in $1.1 billion to $1.8 billion.

“An immediate liquidation of the art collection will result in selling the DIA collection at a fraction of its fair market value,” the report said, noting that it’s an art-world constant that works sold in a hurry pull only 50 percent of their fair-market valuation.

One New York art expert agreed with that assessment.

“The danger is flooding the market,” said Alan Fausel, vice-president and director of fine arts for Bonhams auction house. “There are only so many buyers for so many things.”

At the DIA, chief operating officer Annmarie Erickson said: “The report verifies the fact that it’s a lot easier to talk about selling art than it is to actually sell it,” noting that the $1.1 billion to $1.8 billion spread doesn’t take into account the possibility of legal action to block sales.

“There are many high-value objects that have restrictions on them, and would be litigated,” she added.

Artworks specifically cited by the report include Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Postman Roulin,” which it pegged at $120 million, while it suggested “Melancholy Woman,” one of the masterpieces of Picasso’s “blue period” would pull $80 million.

Artvest was paid $112,000 for the appraisal.


Rodin's 'The Thinker' sits out front of the Detroit Institute of Arts. / Brandy Baker / The Detroit News