theft and other loss
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Key attributes of many collectibles are their portability,
uniqueness, value and fragility. Those attributes foster
theft (whether by agents of the state or by private thieves).
They also foster destruction by vandals, in the course
of was or civil conflict, and in disasters that range
from earthquakes to warehouse fires. Much theft involves
destruction: frantic ripping of canvas out of frames in
robberies from museums has led one contact to refer to
'slash & grab' rather than retail 'smash & grab',
with damage to the artwork rather than to a shop window.
As noted in a more detailed discussion elsewhere
on this site regarding cultural spoliation and repatriation,
theft and destruction of art works and other cultural
property appears to be inextricably intertwined with civilisation
(the ironic "homage paid by power to value").
The following paragraphs do not provide a dossier on theft,
intentional destruction or accident. Instead they highlight
particular issues and offer points of entry to the literature.
For an introduction to the literature and regulatory challenges
see John Conklin's Art Crime (Westport: Praeger
1994), Hugh McLeave's Rogues in the Gallery: The Modern
Plague of Art Thefts (Boston: Godine 1981), 'Tracking
recent trends in the International market for art theft'
by William Lawrence, Laurie Bachmann & Michael von Stumm
in 12 Journal of Cultural Economics 1 (1988),
Understanding International Art Markets And Management
(London: Routledge 2005) by Iain Robertson and Museum
of the missing: a history of art theft (New York:
Sterling 2006) by Simon Houpt.
Works on particular incidents include Matthew Hart's The
Irish Game (London: Chatto & Windus 2004), Edward
Dolnick's The rescue artist: a true story of art,
thieves, and the hunt for a missing masterpiece (New
York: HarperCollins 2005), Peter Watson's The Caravaggio
conspiracy: how five art dealers, four policemen, three
picture restorers, two auction houses, and a journalist
plotted to recover some of the world's most beautiful
stolen paintings (New York: Doubleday 1984).
In the interim a discussion of spoliation is here.
Key works are Hugh Trevor-Roper's succinct The Plunder
of the Arts in the Seventeenth Century (London: Thames
& Hudson 1970), Lynn Nicholas' The Rape of Europa:
The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and
the Second World War (New York: Vintage 1995), The
Spoils of War: The Loss, Reappearance, and Recovery of
Cultural Property During and After World War II (New
York: Abrams 1996) edited by Elizabeth Simpson, and The
Recovery of Stolen Art (London: Springer 1998) edited
by Norman Palmer, The lost masters: the looting of
Europe's treasurehouses (London: Gollancz 1999) by
Peter Harclerode and Brendan Pittaway.
Simon Mackenzie commented in 2005 that
emerges from a criminological analysis of art theft
is the proposition that the best protection the trade
has against art theft is the trade itself. If artworks
must re-enter the legitimate market to regain their
full value, a legitimate dealer will at some point have
to accept them.
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