Wednesday, January 9, 2013

23 Artifacts Stolen in 90 Seconds

Last Saturday (January 5th) 23 rare Chinese artifacts were stolen from the Bergens Industrial Arts Museum in Norway.  The art heist lasted 90 seconds.
According to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, Erlend Hoyersten, director of the city’s group of art museums, believes that the thieves new exactly what they were after.  The thieves’ “shopping list” included objects in porcelain, jade, bronze, and paper.  It is speculated that the thieves were hired by clients who collect such rare Chinese artifacts.  Following the heist, the museum published on its website a series of photographs of the stolen artworks.
It is apparent that even within museums, security measures do not always adequately protect our cultural heritage.  A Q&A, between a Norwegian national newspaper and The Secret History of Art’s Noah Charney, examines the art heist in greater depth and brings forth essential considerations.  The Bergens Industrial Arts Museum underwent another heist—during which 53 Chinese artifacts were stolen—two years prior.  The theft last Saturday bears shocking resemblance to the museum’s previous heist, as well as to two other heists that occurred in England last year. 
The similarities suggest that the same criminal group may be involved.  The repeated targeting of Chinese artifacts leads us to question the incentive(s):  Was this done for monetary gain? Art market trends indicate that there is a high demand for Chinese artifacts within a specific niche of collectors.  Were these objects targeted because of the specific Chinese rules and laws regulating theft, which differ from those in the West and allow stolen artworks to more easily enter the market?  Or was this heist prompted by cultural pride? That stealing these artifacts was, in fact, an act of liberation from Western collections.  Perhaps the heist was incited by a combination of these facets.
It took only 90 seconds for the thieves to abscond with 23 rare artifacts.  As the financial and political clout of cultural property grows, ever increasing security measure must be cultivated and ensured.
For a Q&A on the theft with The Secret History of Art, see:
Originally posted by Sally Johnson on
Learn about the framework for Cultural Intelligence.

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