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The Art of the Stamp:
A Victoria,BC Love Story

Kimerly Rorschach: Seattle Art Museum Director

Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker: Frye Art Museum Director

A thousand cuts won't kill the arts, but small cuts, are extremely irritating

Organized or Disorganized Crime: Either way, steal art and you're likely to get caught.

Art for Drugs: The connections between art theft and drug addiction.

Inherent Vice: Why some artworks contain the seed of their own demise.

Maurice Spira, untitled

New phytosanitary regulations an added wrinkle to shipping art.

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Organized or disorganized crime?
Whatever! You'll likely be caught

Art theft is a headline-grabbing subplot of metal theft. The subject has caused a Canadian comedian to develop a persona who indulges in that criminal activity. In an episode of CBC TV's The Mercer Report a demonic, hyper-manic Rick is surrounded by dozens of famous sculptures in a subterranean, museum-like storage cellar and makeshift smelter lab. In this skit, we must believe that the marble Venus de Milo and Rodin's bronze Thinker will be tossed into a cauldron of steaming water along-side busts of Lenin and other luminaries for meltdown and resale on the commodities market. Perhaps he could also throw some priceless, gold jewellery into the brew for flavour. If only life were as amusing and easy as satire.

Stolen Bill Reid sculpture

Gold eagle brooch by Bill Reid, stolen from the Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, on May 24

Stolen Queen Elizabeth Park sculpture

J. Seward Johnson Jr., Photo Session (1984), bronze sculpture, and bronze plaques stolen from Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver BC on June 20

Sometimes art is grabbed from public places by organized thieves like those who smashed into glass cases on May 24 at the University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology. They likely intended to seize specific items of incalculable value (especially several created by Haida artist Bill Reid) while the security guard was on his break. A substantial reward by Reid's widow Martine and the MOA ($50,000 in total) undoubtedly contributed to the retrieval of all but two of the 14 pieces.

On August 20, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the recovery of the two still-missing objects. Although part of the intricately carved argillite pipe is gone, and some things have been slightly damaged, on the whole the story has a happy ending. That same day the main culprit, a young criminal with a long rap sheet who has yet to be formally charged, made a first appearance in court.

Another local heist has also been well covered by the media. It bears striking similarity to the one perpetrated by the hapless amateurs who carted off large sculptures from the Vollum Estate in Portland as described last issue. Those miscreants reputedly intended to cut the metal into shards and to sell the bits to support their drug habits.

In Vancouver on June 19 or 20, two or more not very well organized unidentified culprits dislodged bronze plaques, post caps, and a life-size cast figure from the J. Seward Johnson Jr. 1984 Photo Session group in Queen Elizabeth Park. They were probably aware that copper can fetch $4 a pound but didn't know that scrap yard owners are now so fearful of being charged with complicity in metal theft that they go to great lengths to ID would-be vendors of what they think might be illegally obtained bronze or copper, and sometimes document their presence on surveillance cameras.

A video image of a female suspect in this crime was released to the media by the police department on July 3. A picture of the array of items taken from the Vancouver park and recovered in a park in the suburb of Aldergrove, was circulated by the police on August 13. Meanwhile read about the past and present state of these art thefts on the Web. It's almost as much fun as following two Miss Marple mysteries that happened here, not across the pond.

Ann Rosenberg is a freelance curator, critic and author.


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