Art Heists: Film, Fact, & Fantasy

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.

 (Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror” 1932. I have this in jigsaw puzzle form.)
Art heists make great stories.

“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.

Seeing these in New York’s Neue Galerie, I “selected” one for my  wall. Instead, I bought a needlepoint pillow kit.  (The finished pillow)

On a recent visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I marveled at the crowd of  tourists  photographing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” pushing like paparazzi to capture a celebrity.  

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?


About cyclingrandma

I was a journalist (Danbury News-Times, Ct), before becoming a teacher, and continue to write for professional journals. I have written several study guides for Penguin Books and write for Education Update, a newspaper based in New York City. ( I’ve interviewed many authors, college presidents, and scientists. I wrote “The Kentucky Derby’s Forgotten Jockeys” for Smithsonian Magazine's website, (April, 2009). Two essays have been published in book anthologies; one for Wisdom of Our Mothers, (Familia Books) and the other in “College Search and Parent Rescue: Essay for Parents by Parents of College-Going Students.” (St. Martin’s Press). I was a middle school Language Arts teacher for more than 10 years and have just completed a five year grant position under No Child Left Behind in Newark, NJ public schools. I have three children, two daughters-in law, and six grandchildren. I'm an avid cyclist, knitter, cook, and reader. I love theater, museums, and yoga.
This entry was posted in art, collections, Movies & TV, Museums, galleries, New York City, postaweek2011 and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Art Heists: Film, Fact, & Fantasy

  1. Stella Sormani says:

    I agree that museum goers now seem obsessed with photographing the paintings. The postcard reproductions are likely to look much better that the phone photo and besides, whatever happened to just admirimg the painting in person?


  2. Barbara W. Klein says:

    Of course your Klimpt needlepoint is as artistic as the original design! Read “It’s Bred in the Bone”, by Robinson Davies. About restoring art stolen by the German’s during World War @


  3. hugmamma says:

    I liked your opening premise…imagining where you’d put a priceless painting in your home…were you able to afford it.

    i’d have to buy a new home to accommodate such a treasure. ha, ha. 😉


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