Art Crime

Art Crime

Art Crime

Art Crime


This is the only book by a criminologist to look at the full range of crime involving works of art: forgery, fraud, theft, smuggling, and vandalism. It is up to date, drawing on much material from the "boom years" of the art market in the 1980s and continuing up through the 1990s, and assimilating information from a variety of sources: art magazines, newspaper accounts, and the relatively small amount of scholarship on art crime by art historians and criminologists. In addition to considering the motives of thieves, the book looks at the way art theft is socially organized: the types of thefts that are committed, the ways thieves locate art to steal and how they gain access to it, their use of insiders and fronts, and the way they launder stolen art. The relationship between art theft and organized crime, especially drug traffickers, is investigated. After looking at explanations of art vandalism and the way vandals explain their behavior, the book concludes with a consideration of policies tocurb art crime. The entire book is written in a highly entertaining way, packed with case studies of numerous crimes and stories of smuggling, grave-robbing, and skullduggery, that will appeal to a general audience as well as professionals and academics in criminology, sociology, and art history.


On March 19, 1990, in typeface suitable for the start of a war or the assassination of a president, a front-page headline in The Boston Globe announced: "$200m Gardner Museum Art Theft." Accompanied by large color photographs of paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt, the articles that appeared that day and over the following weeks were full of speculation and questions, but little information. One question that was repeatedly asked was why anyone would steal pictures that were so famous they obviously could not be sold.

Three years earlier, an article in Connoisseur magazine revealed that dozens of modern sculptures produced by a Mexican had made their way into the legitimate art market as authentic pre-Columbian statues. The forgeries were owned by respected museums and esteemed collectors, and they had been written about in scholarly publications. How could the experts have been so thoroughly fooled, and how had the forgeries been marketed so successfully as ancient works of art?

In 1985, a sixty-four-year-old New Jersey woman was convicted of accepting paintings on consignment, selling them, and then failing to pay the pictures' owners. Why had collectors trusted her with their valued possessions, and how did she perpetrate her profitable fraud?

Vandals occasionally attack works of art. In 1972, a man claiming to be both Jesus Christ and Michelangelo smashed a marble sculpture by Michelangelo with a hammer. In 1914, British suffragettes slashed paintings as a protest against a social system that denied women the right to vote. Why did these people choose artworks from among all the property they could have attacked? What, if anything, did they have in common?

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