Published in the March 24, 2016 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — When it comes to larceny, people seem far more fascinated with art theft and fraud than with other types of robberies and scams. Part of that intrigue likely stems from the myth of the gentleman art thief, according to security expert Anthony Amore, who will kick off the 2016 Sweetser Lecture Series with a talk on art theft and art fraud at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29 at The Savings Bank Theater.
Amore is currently director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where one of his priority tasks is to continue efforts to recover the 13 priceless works of art stolen from the Museum in March of 1990. Those artworks include masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet among others.
Amore has also written several books on art theft and art fraud, including, “Stealing Rembrandts: the untold stories of notorious art heists” and the recently published “The Art of the Con: the most notorious fakes, frauds, and forgeries in the art world.” He also has 15 years experience in national security with the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration.
“A common misconception is the one of the gentleman art thief, who exists only in Hollywood,” Amore says. “I think people are fascinated by high-value art theft because it’s a crime that they know only through movies, so they mistakenly believe it’s committed by refined thieves who don’t commit acts of violence in their seemingly victimless crimes. But nothing could be further from the truth.”
When it comes to art theft and art fraud, Amore sees theft as the more troubling problem.
“Both take a major financial toll on the art world and both are showing no signs of slowing down,” he says. “With each week comes another story of a serious art theft or forgery scandal involving millions of dollars.
“For me, art theft is a bigger concern simply because it represents the taking away of important cultural heritage, as opposed to the introduction of a falsehood. The prospect of never seeing a masterpiece again is a daunting one. Imagine, as my former boss Anne Hawley (Gardner Museum director from 1989-2015) would say, never hearing a Beethoven symphony again or having Hamlet taken away from us. That really brings home the idea of losing a great work of art.”
The Gardner paintings were stolen in 1990 by two thieves who gained entry to the museum by posing as police officers in order to be let in by a night security guard. Authorities say they know who the two thieves were, but have not released the names publicly.
“We did announce in 2013 that we know who the thieves who perpetrated the theft were, but also that this knowledge doesn’t lead us directly to the paintings,” Amore says. “That’s where we are now in our investigation. Keeping the names from the public has helped us to prioritize leads as they come in to us, which they still do.”
Based on his experience and knowledge, Amore is optimistic that the stolen Gardner works will eventually be recovered.
“I do believe that we will recover our stolen artwork,” Amore says. “For one, we have history on our side: masterworks are usually recovered either right away or a generation after their theft. We’re at that point now. Second, we are doing everything we possibly can to get them back. And third, my partners in the investigation from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office are sincerely committed to recovering the art. Add that to the $5 million reward the museum is offering and I’d say everything is in place for a happy ending.”
Amore will have much more to say about the Gardner heist and art crime in general when he speaks at The Savings Bank Theater at 7:30 p.m. on March 29.
Admission is $10 and tickets may be purchased at the door on the evening of the lecture or in advance at Smith’s Drug Store. Tickets are also available by mailing a check to Sweetser Lecture Series, P.O. Box 1734, Wakefield MA 01880.