Skip to main content

Municipal Bankruptcy and Artworks

On November 7th, a US bankruptcy court judge, Steven Rhodes, approved Detroit's plan, allowing its exit from bankruptcy court protection.

One of the remarkable subplots in Detroit's bankruptcy-court saga has been the availability of works of art as collateral.

Rhodes' opinion described the Detroit Institute of Art as "an invaluable beacon of culture" and declared that the liquidate its assets, that is, to sell its artworks for the benefit of the creditors of the city, would be "to forfeit Detroit's future."

I'm not sure I believe that. After all, the works themselves would have remained intact, surely? Unless we believe that the high bidder would be someone with a malicious design to destroy what he/she/it was buying. I think the reasonable guess is that the artworks involved would generally have ended up in the hands of other museums, or in a smattering of cases in the hands of wealthy collectors willing and in fact eager to take good care of them.

Not the worst of fates.

Still, Lee Rosenbaum has a good point in the Thursday issue of The Wall Street Journal. After the DIA's close call, other museums which are owned in whole or in part by municipalities should do what they can about making themselves bankruptcy remote. or "what seems inconceivable today may become inescapable tomorrow."


  1. Great art should be viewed as a public inheritance, even when privately owned. After a century, perhaps, a work of art might be viewed as, in a sense, entering the public domain, the way copyrighted works do. I'm not advocating that works of art be seized by the government, but only that wealthy collectors ought not only to take good care of their art, but be willing to lend it to museums for exhibitions. Perhaps the concept of eminent domain might be expanded to allow the government, upon payment of just compensation (rental fees in this case), to require collectors to lend their art for occasional exhibition in public museums.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

England as a Raft?

In a lecture delivered in 1880, William James asked rhetorically, "Would England ... be the drifting raft she is now in European affairs if a Frederic the Great had inherited her throne instead of a Victoria, and if Messrs Bentham, Mill, Cobden, and Bright had all been born in Prussia?"

Beneath that, in a collection of such lectures later published under James' direction, was placed the footnote, "The reader will remember when this was written."

The suggestion of the bit about Bentham, Mill, etc. is that the utilitarians as a school helped render England ineffective as a European power, a drifting raft.

The footnote was added in 1897. So either James is suggesting that the baleful influence of Bentham, Mill etc wore off in the meantime or that he had over-estimated it.

Let's unpack this a bit.  What was happening in the period before 1880 that made England seem a drifting raft in European affairs, to a friendly though foreign observer (to the older brother…

Cancer Breakthrough

Hopeful news in recent days about an old and dear desideratum: a cure for cancer. Or at least for a cancer, and a nasty one at that.

The news comes about because investors in GlaxoSmithKline are greedy for profits, and has already inspired a bit of deregulation to boot. 

The FDA has paved the road for a speedy review of a new BCMA drug for multiple myeloma, essentially cancer of the bone marrow. This means that the US govt has removed some of the hurdles that would otherwise (by decision of the same govt) face a company trying to proceed with these trials expeditiously. 

This has been done because the Phase I clinical trial results have been very promising. The report I've seen indicates that details of these results will be shared with the world on Dec. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology. 

The European Medicines Agency has also given priority treatment to the drug in question. 

GSK's website identifies the drug at issue as "GSK2857916," althou…

Francesco Orsi

I thought briefly that I had found a contemporary philosopher whose views on ethics and meta-ethics checked all four key boxes. An ally all down the line.

The four, as regular readers of this blog may remember, are: cognitivism, intuitionism, consequentialism, pluralism. These represent the views that, respectively: some ethical judgments constitute knowledge; one important source for this knowledge consists of quasi-sensory non-inferential primary recognitions ("intuitions"); the right is logically dependent upon the good; and there exists an irreducible plurality of good.

Francesco Orsi seemed to believe all of these propositions. Here's his website and a link to one relevant paper:

What was better: Orsi is a young man. Born in 1980. A damned child! Has no memories of the age of disco!

So I emailed him asking if I was right that he believed all of those things. His answer: three out of …