The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) 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 $80 million to $150 million. Other famous artists' work appraised by Christie's included the oil painting ``Le gueridon'' by Henri Matisse at $40 million to $80 million, Claude Monet's ``Gladioli'' at $12 million to $20 million, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir's ``Graziella'' at $1.8 million to $3 million.
Orr, who was appointed by Republican Gov. 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 $18 billion, which includes $5.7 billion in unfunded retiree health care obligations and $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 $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.
The foundation stepped up after U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who is acting as chief mediator between Detroit and its creditors, asked foundations to raise $500 million to keep the artwork from being sold.
Orr is expected to present a plan of adjustment for fiscal restructuring to the court in early January that will include his recommendations for the art.
Orr hired Christie's this summer for $200,000 to appraise the artwork. Christie's said pieces bought by the city of Detroit represent about five percent of the museum's estimated 66,000-work collection.
The high values of some of Detroit's pieces are not surprising, said Charles Guerin, director of the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York.
``The art market has become a place to invest large sums of money,'' Guerin said. ``Art is a commodity, especially when you get into those numbers. It's amazing somebody would even have $150 million to spend. There are a lot of wealthy people in the world who can look at $150 million as if it's chump change.''