Detroit Institute of Arts Prepares to Deaccession Little Bighorn Flag


With the economy coming back bit by bit, we haven’t heard as many controversial museum deaccessioning stories as we had last year when they seemed to pop up every few weeks (most high-profile with New York’s deaccessioning bill, the Orange County Museum of Art‘s sneaky moves, and LACMA‘s defensive push). But now the Detroit Institute of Arts has revived the talk with news that they’re planning to auction off a flag that was at General Custer’s Little Bighorn battle. Held by the museum since 1895 (when it was purchased for $54), it’s believed that the flag could fetch somewhere between $2 million to $5 million when it goes on the block sometime this fall at Sotheby’s, the Detroit Free Press reports. The museum’s argument for the sale is that they don’t feel they have the ability to exhibit it properly, while also mentioning that it’s spent most of its time on loan after they bought it more than 100 years ago. The opposition raises the usual argument that collections shouldn’t be sold off to pay bills (the museum promises it won’t, but has also had difficult financial times over the past couple of years) and historians who aren’t happy to see any piece of historical connection to Michigan possibly fall into the hands of a private collector and disappear. So while maybe not likely to rage into a fiery debate as the great 2009 deaccessioning battles, it’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out (and how much the flag goes for).