When you visit a museum, don't just gaze at the art on the
walls. Take a good look at the guards posted in the rooms and
doorways, especially their line of sight to the exhibits. Then
check out the blinking cameras in the ceiling, the
bolted-to-the-wall frames of the paintings and the shatterproof
non-reflective casings on the statuary.
And be aware that others, less reputable than you, are doing the
The recent art theft at the
gallery in the Netherlands shows that art thieves also know their
way around a museum. And they
Impressionist paintings. These thieves stole two Monets, a Matisse,
and a Gauguin, as well as a Picasso. And all in the five minutes
"state of the art"
(no pun intended) alarm alerted the police, who arrived within five
'Museum of the Missing'
These paintings now belong to the "
Museum of the Missing
," as one book on the subject describes it, which currently
includes 340,000 art objects, according to the
Art Loss Register
. The "missing" collection also has five Rembrandts.
The paintings removed from the Kunsthal are from the private
collection of multimillionaire Willem Cordia, whose family
expressed "shock." Which leads us to ask: Why do wealthy collectors
lend their artwork to museums and galleries when they risk losing
their prized possessions?
Not nailed down
More wealthy people than ever are collecting art. In uncertain
times, classic art is a certainty. Auction houses such as
Christie's saw art sales soar 200-fold in recent years. And this
year when Sotheby's auctioned off Edvard Munch's painting "The
Scream," the selling price was a record $120 million. Incidentally,
two versions of "The Scream" have already been stolen, with only
"The recovery rate for stolen art is minimal," says a study in
the Suffolk Transnational Law Journal, at least in the short
So those who own a valued piece of art should always have it
insured. Insurers such as Chubb and Travelers handle specialty
policies like this.
Their first step is to have an independent appraiser check its
value and make sure it was not
stolen by checking the art registry. This is particularly true for
art that may have passed through Europe during World War II, when
light-fingered Nazis were stealing anything not nailed down.
Then the insurance company will examine home security to make
sure there are alarms and protective devices to keep it dry and
The Kentucky Derby
But most art collectors aren't satisfied with just hanging their
Jackson Pollock on the wall. They want it displayed publicly, even
at the risk of losing it. Why?
"Collectors lend to galleries because they like to share," says
Andrew Gristina, who heads the Travelers Fine Art Practice. "Some
feel it's their duty."
But there are other reasons, such as bragging rights. Like the
owner of a Kentucky Derby winning racehorse, it's an honor to have
an exhibit with your name on it.
And it can be profitable, too. As Dorit Straus, worldwide
specialty fine art manager for Chubb Corp., points out, "an
exhibition can help someone 'arrive.'" If artists become famous,
their work is worth
more after a big showing by their owners. A lucky owner could find
himself with the next "Scream."
Kidnappers and keepers
Thieves make it their business to know what art is worth, and
are more than willing to rip it off walls. Some of it winds up in
China, but there's also a thriving market for stolen paintings in
Some thieves are kidnappers. After all, a piece of art tells no
tales after it's ransomed. Insurers say they don't pay kidnappers
directly, and countries like Great Britain have specific laws
paying a ransom for stolen art. But no one denies that it happens
in convoluted ways, such as providing a reward for a middleman who
intercedes to have it returned.
Then there are "keepers," people who wind up with an Andy Warhol
in their basement next to "Dogs Playing Cards" or, worse yet,
tucked, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, into the rafters of an
attic, perhaps for a generation. "Thieves may sit on it, but then
someone dies, the heirs don't know the painting's value, and it
goes up for sale," says Gristina. The Art Loss Register becomes
aware of it, and it is returned.
Putting a price on it
But you wouldn't want to wait until you're old and gray to get
back your masterpiece. Insurers say that if you do lend out
artwork, here's what you should do:
- Review the museum's offer. Exhibitions are often planned
years in advance. Is it a "traveling" exhibition that moves to
multiple locations, thus creating additional opportunities for
damage or theft as the art is boxed and unboxed?
- Talk to your insurance agent or broker. "We can review our
contract as well as your agreement with the museum and the
policy for covered perils," says Chubb's Straus. Insurers
themselves have "flying squads" that investigate these
- The museum is generally responsible for your art once it
leaves your door. But your insurer will likely insist on a loan
agreement that covers every possibility.
- Your insurer will also look at the "facilities report," which
describes in detail what kinds of security the museum or gallery
"Museums are wonderful places," says Straus, "but they're not
cookie cutter." Some skimp on security, she says, particularly
Insurers say the theft from the Kunsthal will likely cost that
private gallery, and
insurer, a lot of money. As for the owners, no amount of money can
replace their stolen objects.
"I've never met anyone who'd rather not have the art back," says