Thursday, October 18, 2012

Observations on Art 10.18

Yes I know, yet another art heist post. The whole affair just intrigues me so I was reading what I could find about it and came across something I wanted to share. it's an opinion piece from The National which is the English publication of the Abu Dhabi Media Group. I know, now you are wondering what the hell I am doing reading a newspaper from the Emirates and I'll get to that after the opinion. I wanted to share this in its entirety because it says a lot of what I was trying to say and maybe says it better.

Painted Into A Corner
National Editorial
Oct 18, 2012

"Art heists capture the imagination like few other crimes do. Is there some secret cabal of art aficionados willing to pay millions for stolen masterpieces? It might make a good movie, but in real life, probably not. In fact, the thieves who lifted seven works, including paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, Monet and Matisse, from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam this week may well have been amateurs who knew their supposed value - in the tens of millions of dollars - but had no understanding of the art market.

While it's possible the paintings were stolen to order, either to pay off a debt or to satisfy somebody's personal whim, FBI art crime team founder Robert Wittman told The Atlantic magazine that even black-market buyers wouldn't touch such high-profile stolen goods - because their value resides to a great extent in ownership of legal title. If the works are offered for sale, the "buyer" could well be an undercover cop. More likely, Wittman says, they will sit in storage, for years or even decades, and will eventually be recovered. Or possibly destroyed.

This will be cold comfort to the Triton Foundation, which owns the paintings, but it will illustrate the chestnut that crime doesn't pay."

And why was I reading The National today? Because the United Arab Emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, probably have one of the largest concentrations of mega art collectors in the world. In the next few years branches of both the Guggenheim and the Louvre will open in Abu Dhabi and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a Gagosian Gallery spring up somewhere in the region. Last November Sheikha Al-Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the daughter of the Emir of Qatar and head of the Qatar Museum Board, was named the most powerful person in the art world by Art & Auction magazine. At about the same time that same board paid $250 million for Paul Cézanne's The Card Players from a group that included a secret partner rumored to be, that is correct, Larry Gagosian. So maybe now you can see why I check The National art section from time to time.

As for crime not paying, I'm not so sure I agree with that line in this situation. Personally I think there is more 'commissioned' art theft than anybody in the market wants to admit. There is just too damn much money involved for there not to be.


  1. You're probably right about commissioned art theft. I hope that the paintings are in the hands of people who actually care about the art or its value. For a painting to be secreted away for decades adds to its history, but for art to be destroyed and lost forever is a tragedy

    1. Well they are still finding art looted by the German's in World War II that families kept hidden away. Who knows how much of that is still floating around. It's just a nasty side of human nature to somehow legitimize keeping it even though you know where it came from. But than that's a whole different story.