_

crimes
motives
tools
neutrons
x-ray
brains

Stealing. Forging. Ain't it a wonderful art world?
How much art is stolen? There's no easy way to measure it, but th. FBI says the "illicit trade in art and cultural artifacts has increased dramatically in recent years." (We asked the FBI to tell us how they investigate stolen art, but they couldn't be bothered to respond...). The Art Loss Register lists some stolen art.

Who's doing all the stealing? Professional thieves frequently steal on assignment. But a surprising amount is done by collectors, connoisseurs and experts, many of whom are convinced they can adore work better than visitors to museums, galleries and churches.

a little something I picked up at the VaticanNot convinced? Art Crime (see bibliography), tells of Stephen Blumberg, "a specialist in the theft of books and manuscripts from libraries... also stole paintings, prints, stained glass windows, and antique furniture." The FBI searched Blumberg's house, and recovered $40 million worth of assorted bric-a-brac, including 21,000 rare books. Talk about using your specialty...

Can't steal just one
European churches display much more art than those in the United States, and that makes them more common targets for thieves. Nonetheless, Art Crime (p. 132) records this story of a worshipper who must have flunked the Sunday-school quiz on commandment 8: (Thou shalt not steal). "A man who stole three paintings from a Boston church said that while praying he had been overcome with an urge to take some of the beautiful objects in the sanctuary."

As with theft, there's no single measure of the total cost of art fakery and fraud. But Thomas Hoving says he looked at about 50,000 works of "art" during 16 years at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, and found 40 percent not what it was represented to be (see p. 17 of "False Impressions" in the bibliography). "The fact is that there are so many phonies and doctored pieces around these days that at times, I almost believe that there are as many bogus works as genuine ones."

Arrayed against this motley crew of forgers and wanna-be Rembrandts is a small squad of experts who call themselves fakebusters. Some are technical whizzes in chemistry, art conservation or physics. Others are connoisseurs and museum directors like Hoving.

The Greek mathematician Archimedes may have been the original fakebuster. Remember? He was the smart fellow who tested a king's "gold" crown without destroying it. Using water displacement, he calculated the crown's density -- and found that it was less dense than gold.

Science has invented a few tools to help detect art fraud since Archimedes' time. Wanna meet some?


back more
.

The Why Files
.
There are 1 2 3 4 5 6 pages in this feature.
Bibliography | Credits | Feedback | Search

©1999, University of Wisconsin, Board of Regents.