Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Art Heist!

I went to a presentation at the Currier Museum of Art on the theft at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston.This presentation was in conjunction with the Currier's current exhibit "The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed." It was a fascinating look inside the mysterious and seemingly glamorous world of art theft and clearly of interest to others as the auditorium was packed with at least 300 people.
The largest art theft in history took place on March 18, 1990 and is still actively pursued by the FBI & security from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Anthony Amore, chief of security at the Gardner Museum, and special agent Geoffrey Kelly gave us an inside look.

The first part of the presentation was a little slow as Mr.Amore presented all the facts of the theft complete with images of the crime scene. It was heart breaking to hear him describe the destruction of such valuable pieces- the thieves sliced the canvases out of the frames. My assumption had always been that thieves do this to roll the works up for easy transport, but he said the lack of paint chips pointed to them being carried out flat. Paintings this old, with many rounds of restoration and relined with layers of linen, have stiffened with age. Shock number one!

Mr Amore also referred to the thieves throughout the presentation as common thugs and miscreants. At first it sounded like anger or indignation at the act but he continued on to counter the common belief that art heists are ordered by wealthy people who want to possess singular pieces. He said their have been no known instances of this from solved cases. Art thieves generally are common criminals who have stars in their eyes caused by estimated values of artwork. They often hope to ransom the works back to the museums they were stolen from.

Another misconception is that all art in museums is insured. This seems unbelievable but then I think to my own experience with helping to guide people on art insurance. It isn't always the best use of your money. If a piece is truly one of a kind, no amount of insurance money can replace it. And in the case of the Gardner Museum it is stipulated that the collection remain intact or dissolved with all proceeds going to Harvard. Harvard has tactfully not tried to rub salt into this particular wound by demanding the museum be dissolved. The Gardner holds out hope that the art will be returned and the collection restored to its original and intended state.

By the end of the lecture it became clear that Anthony Amore and Geoffrey Kelly are a dog and pony show to help keep the memory and facts about the heist alive. It is part of the Gardner's plan to retrieve the art. It is a very noble dog and pony show though, one I was interested in hearing. I am interested enough to be eagerly anticipating a book about art theft by Anthony Amore due out this spring!

Be sure to partake of all the interesting programming that the Currier has scheduled around the "The Secret Life of Art: Mysteries of the Museum Revealed."

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