In 2014, VWA appraised the entire collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in connection with the bankruptcy trial of the City of Detroit. The collection, comprising over 66,000 objects, is one of the largest and most significant of any art museum collection in the United States. It is one of the country’s few encyclopedic art museums, representing the art of most major cultures from early ancient history to the present, with masterpieces by such artists as Pieter Bruegel, Caravaggio, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and James Abbot McNeill Whistler. The refined curatorial selection is unparalleled for a museum of its size.
Our appraisal, which made use of the expertise of numerous specialists, was for a proposed collateralized transaction, which would have allowed the City to generate funds to pay its creditors. Had it been realized, this would have been the largest known loan using art as collateral.
Our value of the collection, at least $8.1 billion, contrasted markedly with the low valuations commissioned by the City, one by Christie’s, the other by an art investment firm, neither in compliance with the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP) and both appearing to mask the tremendous value of the collection.
We proceeded with the conviction that no just solution for the bankruptcy could be achieved without an objective appraisal of the full contents of the museum. Among the appraisals of the DIA, ours was the only one to include the entire collection and be conducted in compliance with USPAP.
We were poised to defend the value in court, with Victor Wiener scheduled to testify. This would have been the highest-value art-appraisal matter to be tried in a United States court. Ultimately no such testimony was given as an eleventh-hour settlement was reached, almost certainly owing in large part to the valuation stated in our report and the effect that testimony promised to have. The settlement was highly satisfactory to all parties, and also allowed the collection to stay fully intact but outside City ownership, and to protect the collection from any future bankruptcy claims.