‘Ruins have been ruined,” proclaimed an early April headline in the New York Times. The Times had sent a photographer to Palmyra, the 2,000-year-old archaeological site in Syria that had recently been reclaimed from ISIS forces, and he found the Lion of al-Lat and the Temple of Bel to have been among the victims of the terrorist group. The destruction and looting of antiquities during the Syrian Civil War—and the question of how much money ISIS raises through their illegal trade—has been the biggest art-crime story in recent months. But it is far from the only story. Thirteen arrests were made in Moldova and Italy in connection with the theft of works by Rubens and Tintoretto. Federal agents seized what they said where illicit antiquities in New York on the eve of Asia Week. Auctioneers and porters from a Paris auction house went on trial, accused of stealing hundreds of objects, including artworks by Courbet, Matisse, and Chagall. Gang members in the U.K. were imprisoned for the theft of multiple pieces, including jades and a rhino horn, collectively valued at some £57 million. A Picasso painting stolen from the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2001 and recovered in 2014 finally went back on view. As this issue went to press in mid-April, the FBI’s Art Crime Team announced that it would offer a $25,000 reward for information relating to seven Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup can prints swiped from the Springfield Art Museum in Springfield, Missouri.
Art crime is a topic of perpetual interest. See Art Crime: Terrorists, Tomb Raiders, Forgers and Thieves, Noah Charney’s recent anthology of essays by various authors and experts. (It was Charney’s organization, the Association for Research into Crimes against Art, that organized a symposium on ISIS and the illegal antiquities trade in London in February.) See also Alan Hirsch’s new book, The Duke of Wellington, Kidnapped!, published in April by Counterpoint Press, on the riveting true story behind the famous 1961 theft of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from London’s National Gallery. And consider the continuing fascination of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist.
This magazine is no stranger to art crime. Throughout its 114-year history, various thieves, forgers, looters, and all-around art-world ne’er-do-wells have provided ample fodder for feature articles. (In 1966 longtime editor and publisher of ARTnews Milton Esterow published the widely admired The Art Stealers, a compendium of what were at the time the world’s biggest thefts.) For our Summer 2016 quarterly issue, with its noirish cover specially created by artist Walter Robinson, we have gone beyond crimes against art to explore art’s broader intersection with crime of various sorts. In these pages you’ll not only find M. H. Miller’s report on the Knoedler trial and its aftermath, Barbara Pollack’s interview with an agent in the FBI’s Art Squad, and Sylvia Hochfield’s look at new methods for weeding out fakes and forgeries of Russian avant-garde paintings from museum collections, you will also encounter ARTnews co-executive editor Andrew Russeth’s examination of the long tradition of the artist as criminal, from Cellini to Cattelan, and Greg Allen’s meditation on the mysterious disappearance of a Jasper Johns flag painting from a Robert Rauschenberg Combine. Phoebe Hoban interviews court illustrators—artists in their own right—about their experiences depicting high-profile trials, and Andrew Marzoni meanders through the history of the Hollywood art-heist film, a genre unto itself, and a suitably dramatic and highly visual foray into a realm at once vivid and murky.
SARAH DOUGLAS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF