Detroit— A new report analyzing the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts almost doubles previous estimates of what the works are worth, putting their value at $8.5 billion.
The new 50-page assessment, a copy of which was obtained by The Detroit News on Saturday, was prepared in just two weeks by appraiser Victor Wiener of New York’s Victor Wiener Associates (VWA). VWA was hired by the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges on behalf of one of the Detroit’s largest creditors, the Financial Guaranty Insurance Company.
An earlier report for the city and museum by Artvest of New York put the value of the museum’s 66,000 objects somewhere between $2.76 billion and $4.6 billion.
The dueling estimates set the stage for a lively battle of experts when the bankruptcy trial before U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes gets underway Aug. 14.
Two creditors, Financial Guaranty and Syncora Corp., have argued strenuously that a sale of museum assets would net far more than the $816 million grand bargain worked out by the museum, foundations and the state, and which was just approved by city government pensioners. The grand bargain was designed to protect the art from sale and minimize cuts to city retiree benefits.
One New York art-world financier, Asher Edelman of Art Assure, said he was unfamiliar with Wiener or VWA, but called the new figure “perfectly possible.”
Edelman added that in terms of what the art could fetch at auction, “The devil is in the details” — that is, whether or not the collection were sold all at once, flooding the market and diminishing returns, or spaced out over a number of years.
Museum officials could not be reached on Saturday for comment.
According to the report, Wiener served for 20 years as the executive director of the Appraisers Association of America. His online biography says he was also director of fine arts for Christie’s in Rome.
The report also says Wiener was an expert witness in several high-profile art cases “including matters concerning the estates of Andy Warhol and Louise Nevelson, and litigation concerning two of the most important works by Damien Hirst.”
The VWA appraisal, conducted with the help of 11 experts in various fields, anticipates that the collection would be used as collateral for a loan to the city, not sold.
This echoes one of five proposals for “monetizing” the collection put forward by Christie’s Appraisals when it issued its report in December. That assessment, which only looked at 2,800 works, or about five percent of the museum’s collection, put the value between $454 million and $867 million.
VWA, like Artvest, considered the entire DIA collection, both on display and in storage. Because of the compressed time period in which the VWA report was prepared, however, no actual inspection of art took place. Wiener, however, reportedly visited the DIA in April.
The VWA report characterized the Artvest assessment, which took into consideration a number of factors it argued would reduce sales prices, as unduly pessimistic. Artvest cited both the negative impact of releasing a large number of rare works onto the market all at once, and recent declines in the value of auction sales for most categories of art apart from contemporary and modern works.
In preparing an assessment in just two weeks — necessary to meet a July 25 deadline imposed by the court — VWA relied on its own appraisals of 385 “high value” works, as well as estimates by Artvest and Christie’s for another 616 artifacts.
For much of the remainder, VWA used DIA figures for insurance purposes, some of which the report argued were out of date, and adjusted to account for what it called appreciation in value.
Of the DIA as a whole, the report said, “The scope and breadth of the collection is extraordinary. Although it may hold fewer objects than other museums, the refined curatorial selection is unparalleled for a museum of its size.”