Paint Schoodic

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who sez art doesn’t pay?


The Concert by Johannes Vermeer was one of 13 pieces, worth $300 million, stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990. This was the largest art heist in history and remains one of the great mysteries of the art world.
I came across this factoid in a dumb novel recently: art crime is the third most lucrative criminal trade, after drugs and weapons. The FBI estimates the trade in stolen art and antiquities to be $6-8 billion annually.

This ought to come as no surprise when Christie’s and Sotheby’s together turn over about $11-12 billion a year.

These statistics don’t begin to address the dollar value of the estimated 650,000 pieces looted by the Nazis in Europe. The value of that work is, simply, incalculable.

Poppy Flowers by Vincent van Gogh was stolen from the Mohammed Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt in 2010. The same painting had been stolen from the same museum in 1977, but was recovered ten years later in Kuwait.
My studio assistant, Sandy Quang, is finishing her MA in Art History. Like all liberal arts majors, she’s worried about getting a job, since she’s internalized the message that art careers don’t pay. But that’s nonsense, as a recent kerfuffle with President Obama pointed out: arts graduates are both working and satisfied with their jobs. After all, sellers need art historians to authenticate and research their product. Furthermore, ours is an intensively-designed world. From our cars to the pens in our hands, everything we touch must be both beautiful and symbolic of our values. That’s all the work of artists.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn is another painting stolen in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990. These paintings have never been recovered.
It’s no surprise that, when there aren’t enough precious works of art around, people will either forge or steal the stuff they want. But that should tell us something about art—it’s neither meaningless nor valueless. The vibrant criminal art economy tells us that art matters.

Sorry, folks. My workshop in Belfast, ME is sold out. Message me if you want a spot on my waitlist, or information about next year’s programs. Information is available here.

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