Is the strong appreciation of the beauty of art that drives people to commit thievery and seize admired pieces from museums and collections? Who is to decide what is good or bad art? In contrast, would hatred and disapproval of certain art forms or styles eventually cause destruction through criminal acts? Could it be the buzz from the excitement of conducting a heist? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer, but the theft and destruction of mass amounts of artistic expression could be seen as art’s murder.
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Charles Hill, a former Scotland Yard detective specializing in the world of art theft suggested there were 3 categories of an art thief. He claims the first type of art thief “does it for the money.” This would be one who steals by deception, forgeries and fraud. Next are the “trophy-hunting” art thieves who don’t make much money but continue to loot because they enjoy it. Third are the art thieves motivated by a purpose, possibly through destruction of stolen art (Edgers, 2010).
Art has been stolen from numerous private homes, art galleries, and churches. Art crime has been reported as the third highest grossing criminal trade succeeding weaponry and drugs. This is shocking due to the lack of widespread public advertisement for art sales and exhibitions. When spectators look to news for information gathering, most often channels cover anything other than art crime and theft. There is an estimated $6-8 million dollars of criminal generated art theft income according to the FBI.
The Third Reich, also known as the Nazi state, rose to power following the appointment of Adolf Hitler. Hitler publicly attacked modern art as degenerate, including styles such as Dadaism, Cubism, and Futurism. Hitler enforced his own aesthetic ideal by favoring certain art forms as qualifying them as either appropriate by Nazi party ideals or degenerate, causing them to be sold or destroyed. During this time, Nazi soldiers facilitated countless art heists. Cultural items including gold, silver, currency, artwork, paintings, ceramics, books, and religious treasures were acquired during the war and are still being recovered.
In regards to one of the types of art thieves classified by Charles Hill, the Nazi party exemplified art thieves with a purpose. The public destruction and burning of various art forms acted as a form of propaganda and reduced the appeal of those works. Eventually “Jewish” art collections and objects became a target for seizure and destruction by the Third Reich; in accordance the violent crime targeted at the Jewish people in World War II. There are still pieces and collections today that are being tracked and recovered in order to return them to their rightful homes.