by Marc Balcells, ARCA 2011 Graduate
NEW YORK CITY -- A new book bringing attention to the topic of art crime is a motive for a celebration. And indeed, that was the feeling that one could perceive at the Flag Art Foundation when attending Joshua Knelman’s launching party of his new book, “Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art”.
Far away from the typical afternoon where audiences sit and listen to the author, the presentation of the book came with a twist. To begin with, the place served the purpose fantastically: not only is the Flag Art Foundation located in New York’s art district, but it also occupies the ninth and tenth floors of a high rise, becoming a fantastic place designed to admire contemporary art. The space is contemplative, filled with light (thanks a lot, Daylight Saving Time 2012!) and the atmosphere serves the purpose of both enjoying the art hanging in the walls and presenting a book that deals with the topic of art as a victim.
The author was there to greet the guests as they arrived and among them, a representation of ARCA students from the 2011 MA program: taking advantage of the author’s willingness and kindness, we have shared various opinions on the topic of his book.
When the moment came, Mr. Knelman addressed the audience to give a brief description of a lengthy 5-year investigation that became the book. His talk has been a reminder of important figures who were at the reception. Mr. Knelman first mentioned my dear colleague Professor Emerita Laurie Adams, with whom I had the pleasure to share conversations at our respective workplace, John Jay College, until her retirement. Professor Adams wrote in 1974 the innovative book “Art Cop. Robert Volpe: Art Crime Detective”. This mention allowed Mr. Knelman to address the lack of properly trained police officers, not only in many parts of the world, but also in a city that is known worldwide as the most important art market, referring to New York. To prove his point, he referred to the starting point of his book, where Los Angeles’ detectives Don Hrycyk and Stephanie Lazarus make their first appearance on its pages.
Another important person in the world of art crime who was among the audience members and whose figure Mr. Knelman wanted to highlight was Col. Matthew Bogdanos, author of the book “Thieves of Baghdad". Col. Bogdanos narrated in first person his quest to recover many of the artworks that disappeared after the siege of this museum in 2003, when the building was left unprotected. Mr. Knelman not only thanked his work, ensuing a round of applause, but also pointed out the hardships of Col. Bogdano’s task as an example of the difficulty of solving these cases.
However, the book deals not only with interviewees coming from a law enforcement perspective. Mr. Knelman provided in his talk the example of Paul, aka Turbo, an art thief, whose life is explained in several chapters of the book, highlighting the complexity of the illicit art trade.
Also, I had the pleasure to chat with Col. Bogdanos: we both share a career in courts (albeit in opposite sides: he is a prosecutor, while I devoted my time to criminal defense), and a passion for researching into art crime. He pointed out that the lack of dedicated law enforcement agents in the field of art crime was explained, in his opinion, because of the particularities of this form of crime, and how these investigations were usually lengthy and complicated. Because of the urgent need for more research into this criminal phenomenon, he stated how he admired the premise of ARCA.
In sum, a fantastic New York afternoon to congratulate Mr. Knelman’s new book.