Tuesday, February 19, 2008

If they don't care enough to protect them, why should you care if they are stolen?

It's often frustrating to read about art thefts because it involves items of cultural significance. So we all tend to lose out when a famous painting is stolen and there is the inclination to be angry at the robbers.

But very often it is the museums that do a piss-poor job of securing their art. Consider this story from Switzerland: (excerpts, emp add)
At Zurich Museum, a Theft of 4 Masterworks

ZURICH — Three men wearing ski masks walked into a private museum here in daylight, grabbed four 19th-century masterpieces, tossed them into a van and sped off, pulling off one of the largest and most audacious art robberies of all time. It was the second multimillion-dollar art heist in Switzerland in less than a week.

Switzerland was stunned, not just by the loss of half a dozen masterpieces by the likes of Picasso and Monet but, based on police reports emerging Monday, by the seeming ease with which they disappeared.

On Sunday, the three men who entered the E. G. Bührle Collection here took four paintings — a Cézanne, a Degas, a van Gogh and a Monet together worth an estimated $163 million — but not the most valuable works in the collection. The four just happened to be hanging in the same room.

The Wednesday before, in a nighttime theft in the nearby town of Pfäffikon, thieves stole two Picassos worth an estimated $4.4 million.

According to the local police and officials at the Bührle Collection, one of the top private museums for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Europe, three men wearing ski masks entered the museum barely a half hour before the 5 p.m. closing time on Sunday.

One of the thieves pulled a handgun and ordered terrified staff members and visitors to lie down on the floor, as the other two men pulled the paintings off the wall. The police said paintings appeared to be sticking out of the back of the white van the men used to make their getaway.

The museum’s director, Lukas Gloor, said the museum generally did not check visitors’ bags and had no metal detectors, which he said the entry hall of the building was too narrow to accommodate. The collection is housed in a 19th-century villa in a quiet residential neighborhood, where state-of-the art offices border on ancient villas with large private parks.

“It is a very bad experience because as museum director you live with these pictures day in day out; you become attached to them like family,” he said at a news conference.
Sorry, Mr. Gloor, but you had two or three hundred million dollars worth of art in there, so where was the decent security? There was none (an alarm went off, but that's inadequate). Where are the cameras to identify the van or its plates? Where is the dual-site placement of museum staff so that not everybody is immobilized at once? Why was the art so easy to remove from the walls? And so on. Digital cameras and computers are cheap, so there's no excuse for not monitoring every display room and having the activity reviewed at a remote location. And how about those two Picassos taken a week before?

This theft is a big one, and it also reminds one of when "The Scream" was stolen in Norway:
On February 12, 1994, the same day as the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, four men broke into the National Gallery and stole its version of Scream, leaving a note reading "Thanks for the poor security".
Not every theft can be prevented, but there are too many instances where the curators are way behind the curve in matters of security.


Sell one of those paintings and the museum could afford as tight of security system as anyone could want. I'm talking James Bond style laser beam sensors and crap like that.

By Anonymous e. nonee moose, at 2/20/2008 1:14 PM  

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