Authorities recently recovered a painting by Swiss artist Paul Klee, stolen in 1989 from New York’s Marlborough Gallery. After so many years, a Florida art dealer attempted to sell the painting, Portrait in the Garden, to a Montreal gallery.
High profile art thefts are almost always done for the money and almost always fail. It becomes nearly impossible to move big ticket art works, as the above story illustrates, even after 20 years. They are too much in the public’s consciousness.
But what of lesser known artists? Are their works often stolen and for what reasons? I suspect less well known works of art get pinched for those typical human conditions – jealousy, revenge, greed, and even love.
Stealing art because one loves it turns out to be the most interesting situation. It’s been said that imitating art is the sincerest form of flattery. Perhaps that aphorism can be carried further and restated – “Stealing art is the sincerest form of flattery.”
This type of art thief must love the work very much to go to the extreme of stealing it. They would be taking a huge chance of getting caught with the unpleasant prospect of landing in jail. Minus the stealing part, these are just the kind of people artists dream about.
In the mid 1970’s, I participated in the first Piedmont Park Art Show in Atlanta. My booth consisted of one odd little piece titled Electric Lick, an animated sculpture featuring a rubber tongue. Returning from an afternoon food run, I was surprised to discover an empty pedestal. The sculpture was gone. Who rips off art I complained to show organizers. They both agreed it must have been someone who really loved the piece.
After I cooled down and had time to ruminate on it, I realized the Piedmont ladies were right. That reassuring thought was some consolation to a lost weekend of browsers and no sales.
A couple of weeks after the show, I returned home to find my apartment had been broken into. The back window was forced open and muddy footprints covered the floor. Searching everywhere and double checking hidden valuables, I realized not one thing was missing. Someone had broken into my wonderful apartment filled with fabulous art and found nothing worth stealing.
How dare them! It could only have been some low-life punk completely devoid of good taste. Sitting on my Day-Glo yellow designer bean bag, I stared at the still empty pedestal and remembered the Piedmont Park art thief. “Why couldn’t it have been him! He at least knew great art!”