Friday, October 22, 2004

The Scream

Scream Munch Muse., originally uploaded by Art or Idiocy?.

Tempera on cardboard
83.5 x 66 cm
The Munch Museum (rightful owners)

It's a cold comfort, but at least the other one is still out there. Could the recently stolen Scream now be in private hands as well? There is no way the art thieves could sell or auction the piece off through any normal channels. Experts feel that the crime was committed in order to extract a ransom. This seems like a dumb idea. Have you ever heard of a ransom being successful? But maybe we never hear about successful ransomings because the authorities don't want to encourage anyone. Is it possible this is a Thomas Crown affair? Where someone so wants a work of art that they hire armed thugs to steal it in order to possess it. Who could be so unscrupulous? Larry Gagosian? In all seriousness, it is entirely possible that there is network of black market art collecting. From all the lawsuits and court cases that Artnews so diligently reports on, it isn't hard to believe that all sorts of underhanded dealings go on in the art world. Such things go on in every other aspect of the world, so it is entirely possible here too.

Experts in the field of giving disappointing statistics about stolen art say that the higher profile the piece, the harder it is to sell. If they can't ransom it, or turn it in for a reward, the Munch marauders would probably trade it for drugs. This was the gist of what Tony Russell of Art Recovery Ltd had to say.

About 5 billion dollars of art gets stolen every year. About 5% is recovered. But the more high profile the art, the more likely it will be returned for a ransom. So I guess ransoming does work. And there is a secret web of clandestine art traders. Apparently the real money is in stealing less valuable works and selling them unnoticed. Most of the art is stolen from homes and sold on the internet. So that is why art auctioning online has failed, there's a better way!

It makes you wonder how much of the art on Ebay is stolen. It is the only online auctioning of art left and it groups its art by color. "Green paintings," for instance. I once had a conversation with a businesswoman from South Africa who was posative she saw an Utrillo (Maurice Utrillo, French, 1883 - 1955) on Ebay, and that it was going for very cheap. Very suspicious. I told her she'd better snatch it up then and cash in.

Galleries and museums each have about 12% of the loss that makes up the yummy pie graph of art purloinery. For those of you who think art doesn't matter to the rest of the world, art crime is fourth behind drugs, money laundering and gun running. The experts feel that this type of crime isn't linked to an artlover with masterpieces on their walls. It's part of organized crime and connected with the other three top crimes being committed. Well fuck you, I like my theory.

The other expert was Sarah Jackson of the Art Loss Register.

But don't forget that Madonna was also stolen. Again, in his text, Bischoff mentions that five versions of this painting exist. This image is also in lithograph form, so that number is higher, like the 50 Screams. Both paintings were part of Munch's opus work The Frieze of Life. Which was a tour de force of the human experience, but mainly the sad bits. When discussing the Madonna, and when it was displayed as part of the Frieze of Life in 1903 in Leipzig, Bischoff notes that it is "impossible to be certain which of the five versions Munch painted of this picture it was." The Munch Museum Madonna is oil on canvas, and there are four other versions done in paint. Two are in private collections. The National Gallery owns one and so does the Hamburger Kunsthalle. Now, after consulting the information on The Munch Museum's website, I thought I had finalized the details. But I am still confused. In Bischoff's book on Munch, the reproduction of the Madonna is credited to the National Gallery, not The Munch Museum. This is so in other publications I looked at as well. Now the Bischoff Munch book is from 1995, so it is possible in the meantime, that one could have come to the Munch Museum. It is not possible that the reproductions are of two different paintings. I compared the reproduction in the Bischoff book to the one on The Munch Museum's website, and located several nuances that showed up in both images, eccentricities such as drips, gestural marks, and stains, which would not be possible for Munch to have created twice by hand. The National Gallery's website provided no insights. So is this the Madonna that was stolen or not? I don't know.

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