Art Crime | An Exhibition in New York City

December 9, 2016 / Mary Kachur

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The Concert, Johannes Vermeer circa 1664, Oil on canvas

NYC is the heart of the art market. Not only is the city home to countless galleries, auction houses, museums, and private collections, but it has been the scene of many art crimes. Although art crimes are oftentimes portrayed by the media and in popular culture as glamorous, that is far from the truth. Art crime is a multi-billion-dollar industry, with ties to crime syndicates and terrorist organizations, money laundering and extortion, violence and murder, and the narcotics and arms trades. Art crimes include vandalism, wartime plunder, antiquities looting, tomb raiding, smuggling, forgery, and fraud, and those illegalities leave a wake of victims in their paths.

The theft of fine art from private homes and museums often attracts media attention, as people envision heists portrayed in films, like the Thomas Crowne Affair or Entrapment. Much less discussed is the illicit trade in antiquities. The trade in looted antiquities destroys our collective history and memory. Crimes are committed when tomb raiders and illicit diggers loot artifacts from the ground and then sell these objects to middlemen, antiquities dealers, and to major players in the art world.During conflict, objects are particularly vulnerable to theft and destruction. This is evidenced by today’s extensive looting in Syria and Iraq, where civilians and armed individuals (soldiers and members of the Islamic State) take advantage of the turmoil to plunder archaeological sites. This plunder has a devastating effect on cultural heritage and the understanding of our past.

Since ancient times, art has also been used as propaganda, and as a way to make political or social commentary. Ancient rulers exhibited looted objects to demonstrate their might over enemies. But art was also obliterated for the same reasons—the destruction of art is a means to degrade an enemy or weaken opposition. Although some art criminals steal or destroy masterpieces, others misrepresent forgeries as authentic works. Economic gain is a major motivation, but some forgers delight exacting revenge on the art world and relishing in actions that dupe experts and collectors.

Art crimes occur around the world and across cultures. Art Crime, is a brief introduction to this area of study. The exhibition opens to the public on Tuesday, December 13. For additional details, read the press release from NYU: http://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2016/december/_art-crime-_-a-visual-documentation-of-stolen–vandalized—-for.html

Article contributed by, Leila A. Amineddoleh, Founder of Amineddoleh & Associates LLC (www.artandiplawfirm.com) and Adjunct Professor at New York University.

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