Maysun In C

Articles - Art

The Take on Art Theft

Sonal Panse,
A Thief is a Thief, but an Art Thief is classy. Such is an aesthetic whimsy bolstered, of course, by Hollywood stalwarts like Cary Grant, David Niven, and Pierce Brosnan. I almost fell for that myself, until I remembered dear old Marlon Brando - he who gave the Mafia such a golden sheen.

Besides if, like me, you've ever been an Art Student, you've probably had too many brushes with Art Thieves to retain the romantic notions. Someone rustling your sketches to fill their yearly quota, someone snarfing your marvelous impasto landscape (the one that took you six solid hours to finish in the freezing cold in Dalhousie) from the Annual Exhibition for private display, someone lifting your original ideas for public display. It's hard to think of an Art Thief in classy terms in these personal circumstances. On the other hand though - come to think of it - given that it's your work that was pinched, I suppose it might be trifle challenging to consider that person in totally unclassy, tasteless terms too...

On a broader canvas too, contrariwise, it's tough to view things in exactly black and white. When someone walks out of the Louvre with the 'Mona Lisa', or from the Oslo Museum with 'The Scream', or digs an 80-foot tunnel for two whole months to relieve the Paraguayan National Fine Arts Museum of £500,000 worth of exhibits, there's this widespread, sanctimonious outrage about art being the heritage of all humanity and not just one particular thieving fraternity. And all I can think is, wow, these guys had some nerve, if they could scheme to this degree, well, really, maybe they deserve all they got - why are they such villains? After all, we are not all outdoing ourselves saying rotten things about the British Government now, are we? And, Lord knows, there's hardly any civilization on earth that they haven't looted - how come everyone's so circumspect about that? Because all that was by legitimate conquest? They came, they saw, they took away? Well, isn't that what these artful thieves did as well? Acquired it by their own legitimate merit too. And they aren't just getting a bad rap, everyone's demanding they return everything too. Where's everyone's sense of fair play? Right, I forgot. We didn't all develop it properly on the playing fields of Eton.

Sometimes, if especially perverse, I even prefer an art-loving thief to the art-loving hordes that need snooty gallery guides to color their taste. Liiisssen, people, never mind if you personally find the Mona Lisa one real ugly, manly-looking wench that you wouldn't have in your apartment for free, here's a historically prevalent list of valid reasons why you must appreciate and dream of stealing her yourself...

I've noticed that it's mainly art from the previous centuries that always gets stolen the most. You hear more about how Cellini's Salt Cellar disappeared or about the vanishing of the famous Madonna and the Yarnwinder (by the way, I wish they would write Yarnwinder as Yarn-winder; when I first saw the headline I thought Madonna, the singer, had tangled with Yarnwinder, the British Sikh) and lamentably little about modern art sharing the same sort of fate - except now and then about a 52-year old grandmother throwing eggs at something she didn't understand and didn't want explained either.

After contemplating the matter, I think I've come to understand the reason for this neglect of modern art.

People steal art from previous centuries, because with the art from the present century one isn't exactly sure what one ought to filch - I mean,  is it the elephant dung you stepped into on your way in, or the beady-eyed dead cow in the glass case that nearly gave you an heart-attack when you switched on your flash-light, or the garbage heap in that corner that has you thinking that the Cleaning Staff here probably outdo the Security in sheer efficiency?

No self-respecting thief is going to be embarrassed on Security T.V. hauling away such treasures.

Can you imagine a phone-call to the Museum Director later? I have your Turner Prize winning dung - hand over $100,000, 000, Mister, or you don't see a single shit ever!