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Bankrupt Detroit gets city-owned art appraised

DETROIT--The nearly 2,800 city-owned artworks at the Detroit Institute of Arts are worth US$454 million to US$867 million, with one masterpiece by Van Gogh worth up to US$150 million, Christie's auction house says in a report released Thursday.

The New York-based auction house spent months determining the collection's fair market value after Detroit filed for bankruptcy last summer. Its findings were submitted in the long-awaited report to Detroit's state-appointed emergency manager, Kevin Orr.

The Detroit Institute of Arts is considered one of the top art museums in the country. The auction house valued one work, Van Gogh's “Self Portrait with Straw Hat,” at US$80 million to US$150 million. Other famous artists' work appraised by Christie's included the oil painting “Le gueridon” by Henri Matisse at US$40 million to US$80 million, Claude Monet's “Gladioli” at US$12 million to US$20 million, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir's “Graziella” at US$1.8 million to US$3 million.

Orr, who was appointed by Republican Governor Rick Snyder in March, has said city-owned art in the museum can be considered an asset and could be vulnerable during a bankruptcy. He filed for bankruptcy in July, and federal Judge Steven Rhodes approved the petition Dec. 3.

Detroit's debt is at least US$18 billion, which includes US$5.7 billion in unfunded retiree health care obligations and US$3.5 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, according to Orr.

Retirees and pensioners worry that they will be forced to take huge cuts in benefits and pensions during the city's financial restructuring.

Detroit-area philanthropist A. Paul Schaap and his wife, Carol, have pledged US$5 million to help offset expected losses by city pensioners in Orr's restructuring plan and help prevent the sale of the artwork. And the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan has set up an online donation page to protect the art by raising money to support city pensions.

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Detroit Institute of Arts docent Lea Schelke points out details in the Portrait of Postman Roulin by Van Gogh displayed at a museum in Detroit, Michigan on June 13. (AP)

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