When I go to an art exhibit, be it small gallery or large museum, I play a game with myself: I select a painting I’d like to bring home and imagine where in my house to display my “souvenir.”
Of course, it’s only a game. I transfer my desire to borrow a masterpiece into buying a postcard, poster, or jigsaw puzzle.
“Maiden Heist,” (2009) is a hilarious film about three museum guards each obsessed with a work of art in Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. Informed the collection is being moved to Copenhagen, the three, played by Christopher Walken, Morgan Freeman, and William H. Macy, devise a scheme to replicate the art, (two paintings and one sculpture), and replace the originals with the copies. They keep the originals in a rooftop storage area for their own private viewing.
In the 1999 “Thomas Crown Affair”, wealthy Pierce Bronson alleviates boredom by concocting to steal a Monet valued at #100 million from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rene Russo plays the insurance investigator helping solve the crime and, predictably, a romance evolves. Crown returns the painting so he can keep the girl.
But really, art theft isn’t a laughing matter. A day doesn’t seem to go by without some news report of a masterpiece stolen from major museums or private collections around the world. Some works are recovered, restored and returned; others never found.
Last May, a lone thief broke a window in Paris’ Museum of Modern Art and made off with five classics, a Picasso and a Matisse among them. Just this month, 11 pieces of stolen art, including a Basquiat and Leger were discovered in a Hoboken, New Jersey apartment.
Stories of art stolen during World War II and the efforts to return the art to original owners fascinate me. I love the Gustave Klimt portraits of Adele Bloch- Bauer, the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish Viennese sugar industrialist. After decades in court , five paintings confiscated by the Nazis were returned to the heirs of the family from the Austrian government.
I wondered if they too played the “which one do I want” game.
This visit, I “selected” a sculpture, Marcel Duchamp’s 1951 “Bicycle Wheel.”
Duchamp combined the wheel and a kitchen stool, creating a non-functional machine. Museum notes explain that “by simply selecting prefabricated items and calling them art, he subverted established notions of the artist’s craft and the viewer’s aesthetic experience.”
I’m a cyclist. It’s Tour de France season. It appealed to me. Now, where do I put it?