Bloomberg columnist Virginia Postrel writes about the DIA issue today. She gets a lot pushback in the comments on her assertion that it's a "relatively unpopular" museum, but, putting that issue to the side, she says some interesting things.
First, she points out that "suggestions that the museum can’t sell major works without risking violations of donor intent are disingenuous. ... [T]he records for the most valuable pieces are right on the museum’s website. The city bought those works, it owns them, and it should be able to sell them."
And she's interesting on the issue of how to define the "public good" in a case like this, and ends up endorsing an application of the Ellis Rule in this instance:
"A sale to satisfy Detroit’s creditors would certainly be a tragedy for the institution and its local constituents. But if buyers were limited to other museums, possibly even to museums in the U.S., the works wouldn’t disappear from public view. ... The public trust is no less served by art in Atlanta, Phoenix or Seattle than it is by art in Detroit. ... Letting the Getty add the Canaletto view of the Piazza San Marco now in Detroit wouldn’t constitute a rape or a bonfire of the vanities. Hanging Van Gogh’s self-portrait alongside his 'Irises' at the Getty or Bellini’s Madonna near his 'Christ Blessing' at the Kimbell would not betray the public trust. It would enhance it."