Sunday, October 16, 2011

Books October 2011

1. Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art. -

The Thomas Crown Affair meets The Devil in the White City in this fast-paced, character-driven story that breaks open the secrets of international art theft A major work of investigative journalism, Hot Art is also Joshua Knelman's tale of the young reporter chasing a story idea that turns out to be a globe-trotting mystery, filled with cunning and eccentric characters: art thieves who threaten and then befriend him, gallery owners who avoid him, FBI agents and senior detectives who tolerate him, and art lawyers who embrace him in their ongoing fight to sound the alarm about the disturbing secrets of art dealership vis a vis the black market and how it is exploding around the world, unchecked and
unregulated.Knelman befriends the slippery Paul, a skilled art thief, and Donald Hrycyk, who works on a shoestring budget in downtown L.A. to recover stolen art. Through alternating chapters focusing on Paul and Don, the story of a thief and a detective unfolds, in the process revealing the dramatic rise of international art theft. And in a surprise ending, Knelman learns that corruption can appear
in the unlikeliest places.

2. Art Theft Central - A few months ago, I received a review copy of Crimes Against Art: International Art and Cultural Heritage Law (Toronto: Carswell, 2010) by Toronto-based lawyer Bonnie Czegledi. While the book's title implies that it might be an introductory text about art law, it actually reads like many generic art crime works. It dedicates many pages to providing limited synopses of popular art theft and forgery stories including the 1911 theft of the
"Mona Lisa", the 1961 theft of Goya's "Duke of Wellington", and the John Drewe and John Myatt forgery ring. A bibliography of selected art crime works would be more helpful to readers because it would provide students of art law with sources that contain the more detailed analyses and investigations related to the "Contemporary Art Heists and Unsolved Mysteries" and "Cases of
International Intrigue" discussed. There are a few relatively minor factual errors related to art theft and art crime in the text. For example, there is the inclusion of the unconfirmed and relatively shaky report that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta attempted to sell looted Afghan antiquities to a German archaeologist. Also, Czegledi provides no insights related to the vagaries of art valuation that I have examined in-depth here, and that I would expect an art crime textbook, or handbook, to discuss. Czegledi quotes the value of art stolen by French thief Stephane Breitwieser as $1.4 billion, but this figure and the quantity of art that he stole was determined to be less than what was originally published in the media's accounts.Crimes Against Art's redeeming value is its inclusion of an explanation of how art theft, fakes and forgeries, antiquities looting, wartime plunder, and other art crimes affect the Canadian art world. In a few chapters, Czegledi discusses the "Canadian perspective" as she terms it, and provides recommendations for how the country can respect its commitment to protecting and preserving cultural heritage. An invaluable part of the book is its four appendices that contain the entire text of international treaties, conventions, agreements, legislation, and museum policies and codes of ethics. Having so many of significant documents collected in one source makes this text a handy reference tool for any art crime bookshelf.

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