Bodhisattva Padmapani, 200/400 CE from Gandhara (Image: Detroit Institute of Arts)
Vishnu the Preserver, 10th century sandstone (Image: Detroit Institute of Arts)
Mary Williams Walsh of The New York Times has a very interesting story about the jostling going on between the creditors and city authorities as Detroit struggles to deal with its bankruptcy. Perhaps the most important piece at the heart of this battle is Detroit’s world famous collection of global arts and how its enormous value can act as a collateral that can save the city. I would not like to go into all the complex details about the value of the great collection has been appraised but estimates vary between $4.6 billion and $8.1 billion, depending on which appraiser you believe.
My interest in the story is from the standpoint of the artists whose works are the property of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Apart from the masters such as Bruegel, Cezanne, Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rivera, the DIA also has some ancient sculptures from India and Pakistan. Two in particular, the Boddhisattva Padmapani (200/400 CE) and Vishnu (10the century) caught my eye while browsing through the collection. I am a sucker for such historical connections. Would the sculptors of these two works have ever imagined that centuries down the line their creations may save a city in a wholly alien civilization 10,000 miles away? Vishnu the Preserver seems to doing what he does best—preserve if you believe in such things. I don’t but it is still a great story to tell. Two sculptors, whose eras were at least five centuries apart, toiling away on their pieces not even imagining in their wildest fantasy that one day, a millennium and more after their deaths their works would not only survive but showcased. I don’t know how much these pieces are appraised at individually as part of the bankruptcy calculations but they are bound to be fairly pricey.
The details of their provenance that museum carries on its website makes for an interesting reading. The one with the Vishnu statue says, “Donor purchased the work from Eleanor Abraham Asian Art, NY, March 2001. The sculpture was consigned by a London dealer, a Mr. Ahujah (now deceased), in February-March 2001 for the Asia Pacific Show during Asia Week in NY. Ms. Abraham understood at the time from Mr. Ahujah that this work was part of a large group of Indian objects purchased when the collection of an 85 year-old British gentleman was dispersed. She was also informed that the same gentleman had purchased the objects many years before from Mr. Ahujah. See curatorial file for more details.”
The one with the Boddhisattva statue says, “French private collection, pre-1976 Sold Beurdeley et CIE, Paris, 1976 Private collection, south of France, 1976-1997 Sold Sotheby’s The Indian Sale, London, May 8, 1997, lot 12 English private collection, 1997-2006.”
The 175-piece Asian Art section of the DIA has some captivating pieces.
It is a matter of detail how the city and its creditors eventually resolve the debt but I am guessing with such a highly valued collateral it may not be that hard. That still does not resolve the original question in my mind—what about the original artists who created the works to begin with? I don’t think anyone from the city of Detroit would be in a hurry to track down the descendants of the Gandhara sculptor of the Boddhisattva and thank them.