Fine Art Notebook™

The art world in general, NY, South Florida and Italy in particular…

Art Theft Still Surprises Me…

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Yesterday five major paintings were stolen from the Paris MOMA and it’s really a surprise to me that someone could walk into a museum and steal paintings.  I’ve worked in museums.  I did my first internship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was 17 and I’ll never forget the behind-the-scenes hallways laden with ancient art and artifacts. 

I probably could’ve walked off with something had I been clever enough to think about it.  Instead, I just walked around in constant awe, feeling unworthy of the honor to be working alongside history and hoping to catch a glimpse of Philippe de Montebello.  That never happened, but once I did almost run right into Bill Lieberman and I was thrilled for days.

There certainly were a number of people that worked at the museum who were oblivious to major security concerns.  Not everyone there was an art enthusiasts.  Some people were just paying the bills. And it was 1986, so it was before the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner museum theft. I don’t think anyone working in the art world expected art theft to become a crime so large that the FBI now has an entire unit dedicated to it.

Yet despite the increased security and awareness, yesterday someone walked out of the Paris museum with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Leger, and Modigliani.  Where will these paintings end up?  Where did the Gardner works go?  How do you sell works that are so infamous?  Mysteries like these excite my curiosity, but as an art historian they also disappoint my desire to see great works of art. 

This is what today’s New York Times reported:

Mayor Bertrand Delanoë of Paris on Friday demanded an internal investigation into this week’s theft of five paintings, by Picasso, Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger and Amedeo Modigliani, from the Paris Museum of Modern Art. A lone hooded intruder, clad in black, exploited a two-month-old malfunction in the museum’s alarm system, leading to questions about whether the thief had inside help. The museum had closed in 2004 for two years for a $19 million safety and security upgrade.

You can read more about this story and view photos of the the five works that were stolen in this terrific article from The Guardian:


Written by Jenifer Mangione Vogt

May 22, 2010 at 3:21 am

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