The recent art theft of seven out of ten Andy Warhol can prints, on display for “The Electric Garden of Our Minds: British/American Pop” exhibit at the Springfield Art Museum, has been widely reported. The industry’s as well as the general public’s heightened interest in this art heist might have partly to do with the fact that the stolen pieces were created by one of the most recognizable pop art icons and partly with the thieves’ surprising lack of “thoroughness”, having left behind the three pieces in the series that were considered the most precious ones, as reported by the New York Times.
The art theft wasn’t reported until 10 AM the following morning. It’s unclear whether the surveillance cameras placed throughout the building will provide any suitable video footage. Several things come to mind here. First, inadequate security and poor video coverage were also evident in the theft of highly valued antique firearms from the National Civil War Museum two months ago, a crime yet unsolved. There is no evidence that the thieves in either case were terribly sophisticated. And not only was the FBI brought in but Interpol as well, pointing up the possibility that the prints could be smuggled out of the U.S. – whether through a middleman or not and another step toward their permanent disappearance.
We continue to operate under the illusion that there really isn’t a market for stolen art. But, it’s simply a matter of time before we see the kind of art crimes that are alarmingly frequent in Europe: gang theft, widely transported pieces and commissioned art thefts, all leading to the permanent loss or damage of highly praised and valued art. It’s time to look into alternatives of asset protection, because, clearly, human error will play a role in evaluating or managing security and traditional methods might no longer be sufficient for a more criminally charged playing field.
Facing Art Theft
Among those who were interviewed about the Warhol theft was a Springfield based artist who points out the naivete: “….you think of Springfield as the kind of place that this doesn’t happen in. I guess it shows the value of art and that this can happen anywhere.” Right?