The Art of the Heist
What is the perfect heist? Take a moment and think about it. Is it simple or elaborate? Is it methodically planned or is it more spontaneous? Here is my definition: The Perfect Heist:
Must have careful planning, or none at all.
Must have fluid execution.
Must be successful; all objectives must be met.
Focuses solely on the target.
Keeps it simple. Including the pre-heist, heist, and post-heist.
Has a smooth getaway.
Adds to the legacy of the target.
On March 18, 1990, two men successfully stole 13 masterpieces including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. In just 81 minutes, the world lost over one billion dollars worth of artistic mastery. And gained a new one. This heist, according to the Isabella Sewart Gardner Museum, is the “biggest unsolved art theft in world history”. It is a bit ironic, considering it takes less than twenty seconds to read the synopsis of what happened.
In summary, two men dressed themselves in police uniforms, talked their way in, locked up the guards, cut the artwork from their frames, grabbed some other stuff, and walked out. Sounds simple enough. Just 81 minutes right? How long do you think it took them to plan? There is beauty in the mystery of what happened before and after the actual job. The planning process, or even if there was one, is what intrigues me the most. When a painter steps up to his canvas, does he have a plan? When a sculptor surveys her block, does she visualize the final piece? The planning process of the thief is not unlike that of the conventional artist. What tools will I use? How methodical will I be? Who will this affect? How can I express my own take on this? The planning process requires imagination and creativity. The perfect heist requires heart and soul; either every scenario must be considered and time must be invested, expression must be shown through improvisation. The execution is a dance with every move mapped; there cannot be stumbling or insincerity. While choreographed, this dance may also require spontaneity and the expression of emotions. It may require acting and physicality.
The stollen art still eludes the Gardner Museum to this day. However, the empty frames of the stolen paintings still hang on the wall. How splendid! I want to give a huge shout-out to the museum director for letting the legacy of the heist live on! The imagery of the empty pictures is yet another artistic piece left by the thieves; a piece that evokes feelings of hope, anger, helplessness, and admiration.
The story does not end there. The location—or locations—of the stolen art is a mystery, an authentic, real, compelling mystery. This fact in itself adds a completely new layer of beauty to the stolen art works; it is a marriage of human creativity and human condition. Suddenly, the art pieces become conventional; attention shifts from the stolen art to the developing plot. Stories form, theories develop, people converse. Nobody knows the end of the story, the whole story, or perhaps even the majority of the story. The possibilities are endless, which allows for direct stimulation and expression of human imagination. It is the theories, the story, the mystery that frees the artist within us. The illegal actions of the thieves begin to inspire new creativity. The very act of stealing becomes art. Where is the missing art now? Let’s finish the story. Is it entombed in a lavish sepulcher? Is it buried deep within the catacombs of Paris, torturing its taker with memories of guilt? Is it at the bottom of the ocean, trapped in a sunken submarine? Is it hanging on the wall of your neighbor's basement? Perhaps one day it will be revealed. Or not. But the mystery survives within all who know about it; and in this way, the art of the heist lives on.