Detroit Sells Off All Evidence Of Its Once Prosperous Past

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Here’s one more article from Forbes. And of course, the Billionaire bankers and coporate heads who read Forbes are the ones bankrupting the country. The last few paragraphs are particularly chilling — the idea that you can’t eat artwork so better to sell it to the global billionaires in return for a loaf of bread. You can’t eat the Washington Monument, might as well just sell that to somebody for fast cash.

Relating this to Kirby, I thought this line was ironic: “The art in any museum is somewhat like firewood, the stored energy of sunny days long past.” That was the logic of the individuals who stole and continue to sell stolen Jack Kirby artwork from the 1960s. The attitude is, “Oh, it was just garbage about to be thrown out, or burned up, but luckily the Kirby art was ‘liberated’ for future generations of art collectors by us.”

Nobody planned to burn Jack’s art “in the shed” in the same way nobody plans to burn any of Detroit’s art. The only thing that has changed is the thieves are more sneaky now: instead of actually breaking in and stealing art, 21st century crooks will just bankrupt entire cities then swoop in with their billions to plunder anything they consider of value.

Detroit Sells Off All Evidence Of Its Once Prosperous Past

In the most ironic turns of history the city is once again looking to art to change its economic fortunes. The emergency manager installed by Michigan’s Governor to rescue the city’s finances has raised the possibility of selling the enormously valuable collection of the city’s art museum. For over a century the Detroit Institute of Art has amassed an extraordinary collection; gifts from the city’s proud industrialists have made its collection one of the best in the world. Collectively, the world-renowned paintings and sculptures of the DIA might be worth $3 to $4 billion! Perhaps its just too good to be true in the eyes of the current generation of Detroiters – found money desperately needed to, among other things, pay off the pensions of retired city employees.

It is interesting to reflect on the tautology mentioned above in light of the notion that the city can loot its patrimony to solve, temporarily, its budget problem. Most of what’s in the building was given to enhance the city’s civic life, by grateful citizens who had prospered in the city’s heyday. Their notion undoubtedly was that the museum would be there forever, a constantly improving treasure for those lucky enough to live in an extraordinarily inventive and hard working place called Detroit. The DIA collection represents the voluntary and generous gifts of thousands of citizens, now long dead, to the future. (Much of what’s in the building was given before there was even an income tax so the gifts were not subsidized by tax deductions.) The men who built cars, their wheels, their bodies, made their paint and fashioned their bumpers, sought to enrich the lives of everybody in town by sharing the best of human creativity in a dedicated and marvelous public space. All they sought by way of recognition, and many gave anonymously, was a little card on the wall besides a painting recognizing their gift.

The art inside the great beaux art palace on Woodward Avenue is among the city’s last emblems of its once grand civic aspiration, the sine-qua-non motivation for all great cities. When the art created under patronage, owned by subsequent generations of patrons, and given to the public by Detroit’s patrons is gone, Detroit will have scrubbed itself clean of the last meaningful artifacts of a once wildly prosperous city that succeeded at becoming a particularly civilized place.

The art in any museum is somewhat like firewood, the stored energy of sunny days long past. With Detroit unable to make wealth, its economic sun has gone out. What else are we seeing but the desperate act of burning the firewood left in the shed? Once it’s gone the city will be a remarkably lesser, somehow colder, place.

In the future, Detroit’s art will be the product of a planned creative district that manufactures aesthetic objects intended to be the platform of a new economy rather than genuinely brilliant artistic achievements from around the world that an economy, after it was successful, acquired on its own terms. Someone should remember: Lascaux’s drawings could never have fed the hunters and gatherers.