Thomas Crown and art crime

In 1999, Pierce Brosnan and Renee Russo starred in a lively remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. The film was not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining enough. As was my habit in those days, I became quite obsessed with Russo’s character Catherine Banning who was supposed to be some sort of freelance art recover-er working for a large Swiss insurance agency. “How do you get that job?” I wondered.

Let’s face it, I think I was more interested in her clothes and glamorous lifestyle rather than what she did for a living, but the film did spark a renewed interest in all things art fraud related. I had read Thomas Hoving’s gossipy and fun False Impressions: The Hunt For Big Time Art Fakes and I was already familiar with web sites like Museum Security Network – a sort of digest of art crime related stories.

But somewhere along the line, I stopped following news of art world crime and developed new obsessions. Most of the crime being reported was WWII and Iraq war related and while important and interesting, those crimes simply didn’t hold the same armchair appeal as say the Myatt/Drewe con.

Does this con ring a bell? No, it didn’t for me either. But the scam was big news in Europe and NY Times writer Peter Landesman covered it in 1997 (article here). Landesman and ex-Met curator Thomas Hoving also chatted with Charlie Rose about it (you can find the video on YouTube).

In 1995 an artist named John Myatt was arrested for forging over 200 drawings and paintings in the style of 9 modern masters such as Chagall and Braque. So what? you might ask. Well, most of these paintings were sold by con artist John Drewe to some of the biggest museums on the planet. Of the 200 forged works, only 73 had been located at the time of the arrests. Police called it “the biggest contemporary art fraud the 20th Century has seen.”  The art world will feel the effects for many years to come.

So what’s the point of all this? Not sure that I have one exactly… but I’ve begun to work with a certain “expanding” museum in town and am renewing my interest in the art world. Will I soon be hunting down art thieves and wearing Celine designer duds a la Catherine Banning? Part Nancy Drew and part Christy Turlington? I seriously doubt it… then again, you never know.

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