photos via Peter Dejong for The New York Times
Here’s a little (likely unsurprising) tidbit about me: I love a good art heist. One of my favorite films of all time is The Thomas Crown Affair (the Pierce Brosnan one, also has a phenomenal soundtrack), in which a priceless Monet goes missing. Obviously, I love Oceans 12, the best and most underrated movie in the series, which has some of the most magically conceived art heists of all time (I point your attention to this scene. The Nightfox!). There’s also The Score, with Robert DeNiro and Ed Norton, which focuses on a Montreal museum heist of a French artifact. I just finished reading Steve Martin’s “An Object of Beauty” which winds through the New York art world from the early 90s to present day, and gets into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990. Art heists are fascinating to me, not because I want to undertake one of my own one day (I lack the stealth required to pull off even a surprise birthday party, let alone robbery), but because art is something that is supposed to be shown off, shared, admired, discussed, displayed, enjoyed. And if you go to all the trouble to steal it, you can’t do anything with it. You can’t sell it, you can’t hang it up in your dining room, you can’t even tell anyone you have it. I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy it without overwhelming guilt.
So when I read yesterday that the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam had been the victim of an art heist this week, my mind started spinning. Seven works were taken, including 2 Monet’s, a Gauguin, and a Picasso among others. How did this happen? How does it keep happening? Just two years ago there was a heist at the Paris Musee d’Art Moderne, when a Picasso and Monet valued at $130 million were taken and have yet to be recovered. Christ, the Mona Lisa was even stolen from the Louvre in 1911 and was missing for 2 years. Here’s a staggering list of famous art heists in the last century.
What do you do with stolen art? Where does it go? I understand the allure (maybe not of Picasso, but I’m not going to get into it other than to say I was 3 years old when, at an exhibit in Washington D.C., I loudly announced “THIS IS DRECK” and stormed out) but I can’t wrap my head around the actual act of stealing something so well-known. Movies like The Thomas Crown Affair, Ocean’s 12, and The Score make it all seem so slick and fabulous, but the reality is much more sinister and grim. At least to me. What do you think? Fascinating or boring?