Thursday, April 3, 2014

Culture: Can We Still Afford Museums?

(Drivebycuriosity) - The New York Times has a piece about the "Detroit Institute of Art" (nytimes). This Museum - and all the collected art there - belongs to the City of Detroit, which is now bankrupt. The paper muses about selling at least some of the museum´s prestigious paintings to satisfy Detroit`s debtors and to finance "safer roads and better schools". Robert Frank, the author of the article, especially points to “The Wedding Dance,” a 16th-century work by the Flemish painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. According to the auction house Christie’s, this canvas alone could fetch up to $200 million.

I think this proposal is short sighted. Museums - which are already magnets for many educated people - are becoming more and more important as cultural hubs. They are fun and educating, they broaden your mental horizon and make you more sophisticated - all valuable attributes in a world which is becoming wealthier and more sophisticated, at least in the long run. I believe that the "Detroit Institute of Art" can benefit from this trend and use her prestigious art work, besides "The Wedding Dance" you can find there Van Gogh`s "Portrait of Postman Roulin". Auguste Rodin´s "The Thinker" and more (,  not just to gain more visitors, the place also could use her reputation to attract more donors. Their number could grow as a result of the climbing wealth of the US.

Thus the museum could be a valuable asset for the future of Detroit. The city has to reinvent herself and to adapt to a modern world which is more and more a service & leisure economy. The former automotive center could learn from the "Ruhrgebiet" in Germany which has transformed from a coal mining and steel cooking area into a cultural center which attracts a lot of visitors.  The "Institute of Art" could help to make Detroit more modern, attractive & sophisticated. This would not only attract tourists - a revenue source which should get much more important in the future because of the rising global tourism - it also could be a magnet for ambitious job seekers who want to live - and to uprise their children - in a place with a high cultural standard, an argument for modern companies to move to Detroit.

The author recommends to replace the highly valuated "The Wedding Dance" with contemporary art which could be bought cheap. I consider this as a mistake, even that I love modern art. There is no substitute for a masterpiece from the 16h century and contemporary painting can certainly no replace is. I could create  contemporary paintings - and you could.  The "Detroit Institute of Art" needs prestigious art works as a tent pole for its reputation.

And: The City of Detroit didn`t go bankrupt by buying expensive paintings. The insolvency is the result of the industrial decline (especially of General Motors) and the mismanagement of the city. Selling irreplaceable art work would not help the necessary transformation of Detroit.

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