Stealing Art


When I hear the word crime I think of the typical types of crime such as murder, drug use or trade, and weaponry. I never really think of stealing art as a major crime. Just last year, in an article titled “After Drugs and Guns, Art Theft is the Biggest Criminal Enterprise in the World,” the US Department of Justice stated that art trade is the third highest grossing form of criminal trade underneath drugs and weapons. It is mind blowing to hear that art trade is as unregulated as drugs when the news only really reports on drug trade and illegal weapon possession. According to the FBI, criminal art trade can bring in around $6-8 billion! This is more costly than the thefts of stolen vehicles. Although astonishing, it is hard to know the true value of how much the trade makes since you can’t monitor every illegal trade. It is estimated that 50,000-100,000 works are stolen each year around the world. Unfortunately, not much of that art, only 10%, is actually recovered. Imagine if all artworks were recovered- what masterpieces people could find. One reason there is a large amount of art theft is due to weak security. For example, two men impersonating police officers were able to steal works from Rembrandt and Vermeer because they convinced they guard they were legitimate officers. Another example is the famous Mona Lisa being stolen in 1911. Because the security force was poor, the painting was stolen and took two years to get back. However, because of this theft, the Mona Lisa became one of the most famous paintings of all time. But after this theft, that museum found that hundreds of other paintings had been missing. During the time of the Nazis, “degenerate art” was eradicated from Germany along with Jewish collector’s works. Hildebrand Gurlitt, a Nazi art dealer, claimed he handed over all art works he possessed. In reality, he kept enough to create a market for it that is still running today. Gurlitt was a famous name in the art trade business but after his son was caught with some of the art, at least $1 billion worth of art was discovered in their possession. They were sentenced to return the art to their rightful owners. Regulating private sales of artwork, however, is difficult. Payment to the creators of the pieces does not usually happen here. As strong as the law is about copyright laws, you would think they would also be strong regarding stealing of the works in general. To think that this type of theft happens without most of those people knowing is astonishing because there could be so many works of art that the world hasn’t seen simply since we don’t know they exist. Another problem is authenticity of these works once they are returned. Museums could be holding fake paintings and other works of art without the people knowing. It would be hard to give the artists credit for their work because of all the fake ones circulating the market. This also makes it easier for fakes to be sold and make millions of art that isn’t authentic. But here is the issue; it is easier to participate in this type of art crime than actually having and selling an authentic piece of art. In order to buy a piece of art, there are multiple people to pay such as the artist, an appraiser, lawyers, authentication experts and many others. Also, many places offer immense monetary rewards for returned art. Stealing the art or creating a fake and turning it in for the reward prompts a great profit for the criminals. Art crime is simply easier to commit because it is so unregulated. If multiple galleries and museums don’t even realize that a lot of their works have been stolen, then it is clear why people sway towards crime. This is absolutely insane to me, because I hear of artworks selling for millions of dollars yet it is actually less regulated than needed. You would think that the government would tighten regulations on this billion dollar industry. Money is such a drive for these criminals that consequences, even though there seem to be little because of how easy art crime presents itself, do not matter. To read the entire article: http://www.newsweek.com/2014/07/18/after-drugs-and-guns-art-theft-biggest-criminal-enterprise-world-260386.html

#art #theft #criminaltrade

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