Does art matter to a city on the verge of extinction? This film follows the fight over the artwork in the Detroit Institute of Art as Detroit faces bankruptcy. The city retirees face losing their pensions, the creditors want the art sold, at stake the pensions of all the city retirees and the museum wants to keep this important cultural treasure safe for future generations. What is the price of culture?
It is the biggest battle over an art museum in history.
The Detroit Institute of Arts is one of America’s great art museums, housing a staggering collection of European masterpieces, including priceless paintings from Titian, Van Eyck, Rembrandt, Bellini, Brueghel, and Fra Angelico and dozens of others.
Almost all of the most important of its 66,000 pieces were bought in a white-hot period of 30 years, at a time when Detroit was the capital city of American industrial power; and the massive automobile dynasties of Detroit reigned supreme. The DIA is the city’s crown jewel and the penultimate symbol of the brief moment when Detroit was the wealthiest city on the planet.
But that was then. In 2013, after a half-century of wrenching decline, the city of Detroit went bankrupt, and a massive fight over whether these masterpieces should be sold to pay down the city’s debt began. With the city owing 18.5 billion dollars, the DIA is the single biggest asset the city owns outright. And when it is revealed that the pensions of retired city workers are at risk in the bankruptcy, the fight over the city-owned paintings lays bare the unhealed and unresolved issues of racial division that lay at the heart of the tragedy of Detroit.
With unique access to the Detroit Institute of Arts and all the principal players in the bankruptcy, BEAUTY AND RUIN is the riveting story of the history of an astonishing art museum in the context of a failing city, and the definitive behind the scenes look at the crisis that stands to destroy it.