Service of Art Theft Recovery
June 8th, 2015
The empty frames which bordered some of the stolen artworks previously exhibited at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston [photo above], where the pictures used to be, give a memorable, haunting sensation of loss. They’ve been missing for 25 years. Check out the website and you’ll see posted a $100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of a finial of a Napoleonic eagle that was also lost in the 1990 burglary.
Speaking of burgled art, Mark Fishsteinm, with K2 Intelligence LLC, said: “You can never give up hope because if they are stolen, some people hold them for a predetermined amount of time and then think it’s safe to sell.” The retired New York City Police Department’s art crime division specialist told this to Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Smith for her story, “Picasso Recovery in Newark Shines Light on Art Theft.”
While the article focused on the fascinating business of art recovery, clearly the type of work only for the patient, the discovery in NJ didn’t share any how-to clues. Smith wrote about the theft of a cubist Picasso picture [photo at right], “La Coiffeuse,” , from a storeroom in the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was reported in 2001. It was found in February in Newark, N.J. in a package sent from Belgium marked “Art Craft Toy,” with a value of $37. According to her, “It isn’t clear how customs officials at Newark, among the busier ports in the U.S., unearthed a stolen artwork the size of a place mat. A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations declined to comment, citing a continuing investigation.”
Smith observed that in general law enforcement—police, FBI and Interpol–doesn’t work alone. Agencies collaborate with insurance companies and a few businesses such as Art Loss Register and Art Recovery Group [both in London]. The former lists stolen antiques as well as art in its database and is adding reports of forged/fake items to its service. The company boasted that last year it had 400,000 paid searches and found some 150 pieces.
It doesn’t help the cause in this country that there is no central reference list for the law-enforcement agencies to track art crimes even though they represent a chunk of change. Smith wrote that the FBI can no longer verify a previous estimate of $billions lost from art and cultural crimes. She didn’t explain why but my guess would be that prices are so crazy these days that nobody can keep track or count that high.
What inspires people to pay the prices they do for high profile art when they are simply making targets of themselves? If it can’t be sold, what’s the point of stealing art? Why do you think there isn’t a single registry here for all legitimate interested parties to access?