2.12.2008

Art Thieves

Today's news includes a report concerning thieves stealing paintings from a Swiss Museum. Here's you a link to Google news for the story. The facts--just so you won't have to go look--are three thieves, in ski masks, walked into a swiss museum, during business hours, and stole 4 paintings--a Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet and a Degas. The paintings are valued at 163.2 million dollars.

Here's the deal: I'm willing to bet my butt that any "art theft" story is crap. Most of these stories suggest the paintings are used to: collect a ransom from museum, collect a reward from the museum's insurance company, or "sell the art at a fraction of its value in exchange for weapons or drugs." Well, first of all, i doubt seriously the drug/guns thing. I mean, let's say you're an arms dealer like some James Bond kind of thing. Aren't you going to want to hang that sucker up and show it to your next arms dealing party?

Gentlemen, if you'll now look to your left you'll see Edvard Munch's The Scream. You may remember it being stolen last year in Norway. Well, i have it.
If i were a savvy arms dealer at this guy's party, i wouldn't even bother waiting for the shoot-em-up that usually comes at the end. I figured i'd just leave, call the cops and then, when everybody else is carted off to jail, go back to Arms-Dealin' Bill's house and take all his guns. Besides, don't you reckon it'd be embarrassing to be an arms dealer with a weakness for Monet?
So what are you in for? Ak-47s?

No, I got caught with Waterlillies.

No, Art theft has almost always got to be an inside job. First off, the "actual" value of art--like the actual value of paper money--is entirely unstable. These million dollar values are part and parcel of a larger artificial system held in place by the artworld. These values are found in the museum's ability to bring in money because of famous paintings. Or an owner's ability to sell famous paintings. Or, like with Arm's-Dealing Bill, simply showin' off your famous painting. When a painting is taken from this vacuum, it becomes as value-less as the canvas on which it is painted.

No, museums steal their own paintings for insurance reasons or to boost attendence. Owners may steal them for insurance or to boost values. Or, the artworld may actually even collude on these romantic thefts as a way to bolster its own tenuous and artificial standing in our unstable culture.

9 comments:

Aaron said...

How many uzi's do you think Bill gave Bongo Bob for his Nun-Bun?

Anonymous said...

There is a strong underground market for stolen art. One of the major issues is that museums are often gifted items forever that have demand in the private market. Many items are held in private offices, vacation homes, etc. There is a LOT of money also by third world regimes who need palaces & homes decorated.

I would also not underestimate the incentive for art theft. Think of it this way: Even if you get 1% of the estimated value, its $1.6 million. And, what is the jail time for stealing paintings vs., say, robbing a bank? The risk/return aspect is quite lucrative.

I would, in fact, encourage you to consider 'art thief' as a career option. It would put that MFA to good use.

Anonymous said...

i cannot help but ask "how do you value art?" would you seek the counsel of ron paul and adopt the gold standard as a way to stop "artflation?" since the artists are mostly male, do feminists support the destruction of such paternalistic culture?

Anonymous said...

Today, you lost half your butt, Walter. Half of the Swiss heist was recovered undamaged. All evidence points away from the scenario you described in your illfounded diatribe. Regardless of the basis for your outlandish and groundless accusations regarding art theft, one must give you credit for cynicism and a very vivid imagination.

Anonymous said...

Re yesterday's retort, Walter:

I paraphrase Dr. Johnson, 'Censorship is the last refuge of a coward.'

Biffle said...

i find it both exciting and scary that there is an insane person obsessed with the goofy things i say.

Anonymous said...

Not obsessed with your goofy statements, Walter, just mildly compelled to set the record straight lest some unsuspecting soul take your thoughts too seriously regarding art theft.

Enjoy the excitement though as happiness is where you find it.

As for being scared, rest easy, I'm harmless, however, I was a bit surprised that it took you over a day to post my mild retort to your diatribe. The "news" regarding half the art being recovered was hot off the press when I first wrote you :-)

Anonymous said...

Biffle-logic is intriguing. It reminds me of Shakespeare--"Nothing is but what 'tis not."

Curtis said...

This is vaguely related to your topic, but do you know Bowie's album "Outside"? It's a concept album based on the premise that in the future, crime itself has not only become an artform, but the only viable artform left. An interesting idea. It deals mainly with violent crime, but can the theft of existing artworks be art in itself, it the thief says it is? I think about the group in NYC who stage "invasions" as art pieces- their "breaking and entering" and "disturbing the piece" are certainly illegal art activities.