How Art Theft Underreporting Hurts the Market

Bill AndersonBlog, News

A recent piece in the Spanish paper, El Pais, reported the theft of five Francis Bacon paintings from a home in Madrid.

Major Art Theft Unreported for Eight Months

That’s bad enough news, but making it worse is the fact that the theft occurred last June and wasn’t reported for over eight months. I can only speculate on the reason for the delay, but it seems just as likely that it would never have been reported. After all, no one is checking on the ongoing status of private collections. The paintings probably never came to market, since a transaction of Bacon’s works would be very hard – but not impossible – to conceal.


How Many More Are There?

When a theft of this magnitude isn’t revealed, the question begs about how many thefts of art and other valuable assets go unreported or even unnoticed? This is the sort of thing that vexes organizations attempting to maintain and publicize accurate figures on theft, whether the FBI, Interpol, Europol, the Italian Carabinieri, Art Recovery International or local police forces.

Old Benchmark Date

The benchmark number of $6 billion in annual losses hasn’t been updated for 10 years. It is highly unlikely that a market that has grown so dramatically since isn’t suffering losses at a comparable rate.  Just one measure of the expansion is the fact reported by in 2015 that transactions of contemporary art alone have risen by 1,200% since 2000. Given historical market secrecy it’s not unreasonable to think that even this understates the measure of only one sector. Therefore could not theft have risen by 50%? 100%?

Awareness Is Key

The greatest impetus for adequate security is awareness of a threat. The result of underreporting is a market under the illusion that theft is less of a threat and unprepared for the risk.