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Why DIA valuations have varied so wildly

Oct 8, 2014

All through the Detroit bankruptcy trial, the spotlight has been fixed on the Detroit Institute of Arts.

It has become one of the most contentious and confusing issues in the bankruptcy, as the appraisals of the DIA’s treasures have been wildly different. The city’s appraisal by Christie’s came in at just over $800 million, while an appraisal done by noted expert Victor Wiener pegs the value at more than $8 billion.

Beverly Jacoby is a noted art valuation expert who recently had an op-ed piece in the Detroit Free Press. She's the founder and president of BSJ Fine Art in New York.

Jacoby says there are several reasons for the wildly different values. Jacoby says an appraisal can vary depending on the party that commissions it. “A key issue with any appraisal is the appraiser is hired by a party and that party is the intended user," she says.  

Rivera Court-Detroit Institute of Art
Credit Trish P. / Flickr

A second reason given by Jacoby, which she says is more important, is that each appraiser uses a different method to appraise the artwork, which inevitably leads to disparities in value. “From top to bottom, there was a lack of uniformity” in the various appraisals, Jacoby says.

In addition to these two issues, Jacoby says many of the appraisers did not have a lot of time to look at the DIA’s collection. One appraiser, Jacoby mentions, had only two weeks to conduct his research.