Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Paris it's not all croissants

A cafe and croissant on le zinc
                                   Courtyard cat at the Concierge's door
                                           Canal Saint Martin at dusk
Welcome to the darker side of the city of light. Not the stereotypical beret+baguette, Inspector Clouseau - there's CRIME. Art Crime. I discovered stolen art is a commodity. In the majority of robbery cases, according to the Art Flics (cops), only 1% of stolen art is commissioned by a connissieur or collector. Stolen art is unlike the Thomas Crown Affair - remember the film with Steve McQueen and re-make with Pierce Brosnan?  Forget the diletante millionaire collector with a yen for a Degas who executes the perfect heist. Forget the whiff of glamor, romanticism and rakish Cary Grant of To Catch a Thief.
Think the opposite - gritty, greedy and so not debonair.

Through a connection of a connection I had the chance to speak with two agents at Interpol who specialize in tracing art theft in Europe. At the time, researching my book, I'd come up with a storyline. After running it by them they politely suggested to use a storyline based on reality - the reality of art theft they investigate.
Think along the lines of a stolen Monet pastel- sold for a few thousand Euros or in trade for an armored Hummer, a restaurant in Zagreb.
Many art thieves, they told me, have short term thinking. The goal is to move the item through a fence and get quick cash.  Or with bigger networks,  to keep the paintings in storage under floorboards in a Zagreb warehouse until the heat dies down. The larger networks will use the painting/s in exchange for something in two or three years. Perhaps a Collector might come into it interested if they don’t care about the provenance, or ever displaying the painting, selling it to a museum or passing it on to heirs. In the words of the authorities "Extraordinary paintings by great masters are so recognizable that they are difficult to sell." However criminal gangs try to extort money from the museum or state, or trade the works in the underworld for drugs or weapons.

French Art flics only recover 10% (in a good year) of the stolen national treasures robbed from churches, chateaux, national historical buildings and private owners like Picasso’s grand-daughter.

The BRB (robbery task force) in the Préfecture who deal in stolen art find their connections in the flea market among the Romanians. The BRB deal with crooks who are their informers to find a name, a network in exchange for looking the other way. Many antiquities sellers at the famous St Ouen flea market have a back room where a special client can find stolen work or forgeries.

I heard this a few weeks after the bold broad daylight heist of seven paintings in the Louvre. The Art flics had 'aucune idée' no idea or clue to the whereabouts - they were stumped and this was related with embarrasment. But figure, he said, one of the world's largest museums with one of the worlds largest collections, an outdated security system if even in place in some wings and millions of visitors every year how can the museum enforce more security? Who wants a tourist/visitor to feel like they're going thru airport security to see the treasures of France?

Another Picasso was stolen Friday from the home in southern France of an art collector, who was beaten up during a robbery, a police source said.
The most important work in the robbery was a lithograph representing a woman's face painted by Picasso
The robbery was another in a series in Marseille since December. Thieves stole about 30 paintings, including a work by Picasso, from a private villa in January. A drawing by French impressionist Edgar Degas was stolen from a museum in December.
According to the Art Loss Register,  about 170,000 pieces of art are listed and missing.
Cara - Tuesday

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating, Cara! And from what I've heard in Greece, not so surprising that the ones primarily behind so much of it are from the Balkans.