Over the past century, a certain appeal to art thievery has idealized art thieves not as criminals, but as high-class sophisticates with great taste and style. In The Thomas Crowne Affair, Pierce Brosnan’s character steals art for amusement and recreation rather than money, for the stylish socialite already has more money than he needs. The sexy Catherine Zeta-Jones teams up with a rugged Sean Connery to train for a high stakes & just barely death-defying jobs in Entrapment. The all-star cast of the Ocean’s movies lines up hilarious, gorgeous, and brilliant men whose somehow miraculously bypass is most exquisite European home alarms ever concocted by an agoraphobe in Amsterdam. The ensemble cast of A-list celebrities make art thievery and high-stakes jobs look like a fun time hanging out with your pals.
The reality of art thievery it is that is takes very highly skilled and highly trained former security professionals to get the job done. The most famous case of art theft in history is when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, and the thief was only able to make off with the painting because he had worked at the Louvre. Even then, it still took police two years to track down Vincenzo Peruggia, and it was only because of Mr. Peruggia’s impatience in selling the painting that he was eventually caught.
What makes art thievery unique to other types of theft are two separate yet intertwined dynamics. Firstly, art work and pieces are one-of-a-kind, meaning no matter how high certain pieces are valued at, they still are essentially priceless. Secondly, some art pieces have significant cultural meaning, like the Mona Lisa to Italy, O’Keeffe’s florals to Hawaiians or skull bone landscapes to New Mexicans, and thousands of other artifacts and paintings that are representations of culture, history and society. The fact that art can symbolize so many things, and is the major reflection of culture as we know it across time itself, makes it very powerful and hard to measure the value financially. This is why art thievery is so intriguing, and art thieves face serious jail time, if they are caught within the statute of limitations. For most US state’s and other countries, the statute is anywhere from 3-7 years, but most thieves can hide out for that long and then sell their art for a much higher price back on the market after the statute expires. Or sometimes the pieces are merely kept for private collections and sold at a much lower price. Either way, having a short statute of limitations on art thievery makes it too easy for these criminals to get off. And while museums and private collectors have installed exquisitely complex security and home alarms to defend their prized pieces, some more work on the back end needs to be done to deter future art robberies.