Should museums tell the public about missing art?
Italian Renaissance armor in two pieces of gold and silver, which was It was stolen from the Louvre in 1983 and was found this year In a family private collection in France, the way often stolen art was discovered: an expert pitted the objects against an online database of lost and stolen art.
According to current and former museum officials, the museum is often feared to have stolen information, suggesting security vulnerabilities that other institutions may reduce their chances of lending them art, or that it may encourage other theft. Can. Art security experts say that failure to report the theft, particularly involving items stolen from storage, prevents museums from retrieving items.
Philip Malguerres, curator of heritage art at the Louvre, said that when he began working in museums decades ago, he heard stories of robberies and disappearances that went unreported.
“Our objective is to conserve goods for the future and for the public,” Mr. Malgures said. “When we fail to do this, when something is stolen, it is a very painful experience, which in the past led some museums, in particular, sometimes not even to go to the police , Because they felt so embarrassed about it. “
He said that the recently recovered armor was not as well known as many other pieces in the Louvre’s collection, that he thought it would eventually be found because it was listed in a database of art thefts in France Was.
Now, public museums and galleries operate in a more transparent way, said Sandy Naren, former director of the National Portrait Gallery in London and former director of events at the Tate Gallery.
“In the past, institutions had a kind of quick response that wanted to protect their sense of integrity, making them very cautious to talk about it,” said Mr. Naren, who led a team at Tate . That two JMW Turner pictures recovered In 2002, eight years after it was stolen while on loan at a museum in Germany.
on Sunday, The newspaper El País reported Spain’s National Library found in 2014 that one of its holdings, a 17th-century book, was copied by Galileo, but not reported to the police until four years later, when researchers requested the work .
While it is clear that the artwork is stolen when it is displayed, museums can sometimes take years to realize that pieces are in storage, Tim Carpenter, a special agent of the FBI’s art crime team Huh.
He said, “It could be 10 or 15 years ago when they do an inventory and say, ‘Hey, where is this piece?” “You can imagine how difficult it is to play catch-up on a 15-year-old offense. It works infinitely harder for us. “
An extensive catalog of a museum, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which contains hundreds of thousands of objects, is time-consuming and expensive, but poor record keeping can hamper theft investigations.
In one case, Mr. Carpenter discovered the disappearance of the artifacts 15 to 20 years after the robbery at a major museum. Officials knew where the artifacts were, but could not retrieve them because the museum was unable to establish that the items were in its possession; The museum’s most accurate list dates back to the 1920s, he said.
The advantages of reporting theft are obvious: Members of the public can be helped to identify the art of theft, and it is difficult to sell to thieves. In 2011, after a drawing attributed to Rembrandt was stolen from an exhibition at a hotel in Los Angeles, authorities released an image of the piece. Days later, it was abandoned in a church.
However, there are also instances when stealing from the public eye is beneficial for investigative purposes, said Linda Albertson, chief executive of the Association for Research into Crime Against Art, an organization that researches art crime.
In 2013, when the thieves Villa stole 27 pieces from Giulia’s National Etruscan Museum In Rome, police remained silent about the theft and, as a result, recovered most of the pieces, she said.
“Sometimes they are too quiet, not so talkative or pretentious,” Ms. Albertson said of the Italian police division that focuses on art crime. “This conscience has been very helpful.”