The Secret History of Art – Noah Charney on Art Crimes and Art Historical Mysteries
Posts Tagged ‘art theft’
The FBI’s Press Conference on the Gardner heist, held on the 23rd anniversary of the crime, revealed some new information considered sensational by the media. The largest property crime in peace-time history saw the theft of thirteen artworks, valued around $500 million during one 81-minute theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The crime was perpetrated during the night after the St. Patrick’s Day revels, in 1990. A $5 million reward still stands for information leading to the successful recovery of all the works in question. Myriad theories have swirled around who was behind this crime, for surely it was some larger organized crime group, more elaborate than the two thieves disguised as policemen who bluffed their way into the museum, tricking student security staff into opening the door without first checking with the police department. The same criminals had tried another tactic some days prior to the theft, when one of their gang, posing as a mugging victim, frantically banged on the service entrance door to the museum, screaming for help. That night, with professional security staff on duty, the door was not opened, and it was noted that the “mugging victim” was seen leaving amicably with his “muggers” later that night. But the crime was eventually successful, with works by Rembrandt and Vermeer headlining the haul.
Noah Charney Live
“Traffickers, Thieves, and Forgers in the World of Art”
The Guardian’s wonderful art critic, Jonathan Jones (author of the highly-recommended The Lost Battles, about Leonardo’s lost Battle of Anghiari, a topic discussed in one of my LA Times articles) wrote a thoughtful article a few days ago, entitled “Is Art Theft an Act of Homage?” He was kind enough to mention two books of mine, a novel (The Art Thief) and a history book (Stealing the Mystic Lamb), along with a fine book by a colleague of mine, Sandy Nairne’s Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners. Jones notes that a number of high-profile art thefts, and the majority of the presentations of art theft in fiction and film, show thieves as obsessive collectors or art lovers, and suggest that the act of stealing a work of art is in some ways an homage to that work.
On Saturday, 5 January, 23 rare Chinese artifacts and artworks were stolen in a daring heist at the Bergens Industrial Arts Museum in Norway. Once home to one of Europe’s largest collections of Chinese art, the private collection of a Norwegian general who fought with the Chinese Imperial Army, the theft has shocked Norway, and is strangely reminiscent of a pair of heists of Chinese art in Cambridge and Durham, England last year, as well as another theft, of 53 Chinese artifacts, from the same museum two years ago—suggesting that the same criminal group may be involved. The entire theft took just 90 seconds, and can be viewed here.
The Secret History of Art was asked to write an autobiographical essay about getting into the study of art crime for the alumni magazine of St John’s College, University of Cambridge, where I studied for an MPhil degree in Art History. With the permission of that magazine, The Eagle, the article is republished here.
The Museu Frederic Marés in Barcelona is a museum-sized cabinet of curiosities, and one of the lesser-known highlights to a visit there. To recommend any one exhibit to see in the museum is a tougher call, but why don’t we consider an unusual selection, a glass cabinet full of old skeleton keys that the Catalan sculptor collected over his lifetime?