We’re told that art needs to be more engaged with politics and yet our most sophisticated art critics seem to have no ear for politics, no ability to see their own victory. The situation in Detroit is a perfect example. Over the last several months we’ve heard repeated wails of outrage that Detroit’s art should become mixed up in the city’s bankruptcy. This latest example comes from the New Republic’s Jed Perl:
The hue and cry about the DIA, loud as it has been, is not loud enough. Detroit would be a much smaller place without its Bruegel—or its great Poussin or its great Matisse. If the future of the auto industry is a matter of national concern, then why isn’t the threat to the DIA regarded as a national scandal? For years our elected officials have been backing away from any serious engagement with the arts.
Michigan Governor Snyder is an elected official and as soon as a Federal Judge ruled Detroit’s bankruptcy could go through, thus putting DIA’s art in real jeopardy, Governor Snyder started floating the potential for a grand bargain. County officials—also elected—raised operating funds for DIA by taxing their residents. Both acts are “serious engagement with the arts.”
Detroit’s art should not be sold. But politics, as they say, isn’t beanbag. The process by which that city, state and region came to recognize the value of its art collection was not pretty nor was it dignified. But it did unequivocally make preserving DIA a paramount issue. That’s a victory for the arts and a victory for the people. Shouldn’t an art critic celebrate that?