Showing posts with label Oslo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Oslo. Show all posts

January 25, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Three, The Thefts

By Therese Veier

Munch is one of a few Norwegian artists that have a global market of buyers and collectors. The value and prices for his art have increased, coinciding with an increase in thefts.

On February 23, 1988, in the middle of the night, the Munch painting “Vampyr” was stolen. The thief climbed into the Munch Museum through an open window. With no alarms attached, it was easy to steal the world-famous painting. This was not a planned theft, rather an act of impulse triggered by the open window. Iconic art such as “Vampyr” is impossible to sell, and not knowing what to do with the painting, the thief decided to return it. In August, he walked straight into the police station, carrying “Vampyr” under his arm, hoping this would lead to a milder sentence for a big jewellery theft he had committed in June. The thieves were convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

Unfortunately, the National Museum in Oslo was not that lucky in 1993 when Munch’s "Portrett studie" a portrait of his sister, was taken from the walls during the museum’s opening hours. The painting has never been recovered. The experience of art crime investigators is often that if stolen art is not found shortly after the theft, it can disappear into the black market for years.

A year after this, in 1994, a few hours before the grand opening ceremony for the Lillehammer-Olympic Games, the National Museum in Oslo was again victim of a Munch theft. This time the museum’s version of "Skrik" (The Scream) was stolen. Knowing that most of the police force would be occupied with security at the Olympics, the confidant thieves planned and executed a theft they knew would take all media attention away from the Olympics and ridicule Norway. The thieves entered the museum using a ladder, smashed a window, climbed inside and stole “Skrik”. They pinned an art postcard on the empty museum wall with the words, “Thanks for the poor security”. The theft took 50 seconds. An inexperienced guard did not react correctly to the museum alarm, and camera images were poor. The theft created headlines worldwide. How could this happen? Was it really that easy to steal a national treasure? With the professional aid of Scotland Yard and Charley Hill, who managed to convince the thieves that the Getty Museum wanted to buy the work back, “Skrik” was recovered. It turned out that the brains behind this brazen theft was Pål Enger, who previously stole “Vampyr” from the Munch Museum. Enger was sentenced to six years in prison for this theft and other petty crimes, his companion, got three years. Museum security was declared a national issue that should be taken serious.

After a few quiet years the Munch Museum experienced Norway’s most brutal art theft so far. On the 22nd of August 2004, both “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen by armed robbers during the museum’s opening hours. Shortly after the theft a student at the art academy in Oslo, Malo (Hammaya Rashid), solicited a stunt claiming the thieves had burnt the artworks in fear of getting caught, and given him the ashes from which he had created a new work, “Munch masks”. Lars Fr. Svendsen, a philosophy professor, called the idea brilliant. If the masks really contained the ashes from “Skrik” and “Madonna” this would make Malo’s work one of the most important artworks in the 21 century, and even if they don’t it is still a very interesting and provocative work. Criminality as an art form has never really been explored, but will probably increase in the future, Svendsen stated to the press. Hopefully the majority do not share his views, and tests showed that Malo’s “Munch masks” did not stem from the stolen works.

Later investigation revealed that the theft was a diversion to get the police occupied searching for the paintings while the thieves could execute the largest money theft in Norway (57,4 million Norwegian kroner), the NOKAS robbery. When the NOKAS case came on hearing David Toska, the leader, offered to return the stolen Munch works if certain demands were met, like more frequent visits from his girlfriend. His demands where never granted. Toska and his gang were sentenced for the NOKAS robbery, but Toska was never tried for the museum theft. In May 2006, three men were convicted and sentenced for the Munch robbery, but the artworks remained lost. Two years and nine days after “Skrik” and “Madonna” were stolen from the museum the police found the artworks in Oslo. They were damaged, but could be restored. No reward was paid for the recovery of the works, and no new convictions issued.

To summarize, my impression is that thieves view art thefts as easy, a prank to get media attention, to brag about or as a cover up for their “real” theft. The thieves are tough criminals. Of course museums cannot always prevent art from being stolen, but research and knowledge about art crime, correct security measures and special art crime investigators is necessary.

Databases to register stolen art is an important tool; unfortunately, Norway does not yet have a national database for stolen art.

January 24, 2011

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part Two, The Munch Museum

By Therese Veier

The Oslo Council inherited Munch’s works and property in 1946 and opened a museum in 1963. The museum expanded and renovated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of Munch’s death; the project was largely financed by the Japanese company Idemitsu Kosan co. Ltd.

Apart from a fascination and admiration for Munch’s art in Japan, why did a Japanese company have to finance this? Norway is a rich country by most comparisons, largely earned by oil findings. Isn’t it the obligation of Norway and the Oslo council to take care of our cultural inheritance?

In 2004, the museum experienced a violent theft, and was burglarized in broad daylight by two armed robbers who stole The Scream and Madonna. After this incident, the museum received money from the council to update security.

Immediately after the theft in 2004, the company Det norske Veritas was hired to perform a security analysis to minimize future risks regarding fire, water and humidity damage, and theft and armed robbery, according to Sture Portvik, information and marketing director at the Munch Museum.

Det Norske Veritas report recommended the installation of "a lockable gate for the general public at some distance from the entrance door"; a labyrinth in front of the gate; and metal detectors. The DNV report also recommended that the museum protect the valuable icons with glass and bolt all pieces onto the walls; upgrade burglary protection; and "further fire sectioning of the rooms where the art works are stored.”

“The only possible action towards armed robbers is to create enough time delay so that the police can get there in time,” says Monica Solem, project manager in DNV Consulting. She adds: “At the time of the robbery, there were hardly any barriers to overcome in the museum.”

The Munch museum also contacted other museums to enquire about security measures, and the company ABM-utvikling, that specializes in active and strategic development to strengthen archives, libraries and museums role as cultural and social institutions, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum radically altered their security. Visitors today are reminded of airport security checks when entering the museum, a long wall of bulletproof glass is in front of several art works and guards are placed throughout. Museums face a difficult task in how to best maximize security, be cost-efficient, care for the art works, and still keep the art available for the public.

In the fall of 2010, the Munch Museum hired a new director, Stein Olav Henrichsen. He told the press that the museum still faces big challenges that will have to be solved before the museum is scheduled to move in 2014 into a new building (nicknamed Lambda) by architect Juan Herreros. However opinion is split about whether a new museum should be built by the sea where it might be humid and no room for expansion, or if it is better to keep the present location and renovate the old building at Tøyen. On 17th of January 2011 the council issued a final hearing for the three cultural institutions, the Munch Museum, Stenersen Museum, and Deichmanske Main Library, that are planned to relocate to Bjørvika. The deadline for a final decision is set to the 28th of February.

The museum employees have asked for financial aid because 200-300 paintings badly need technical conservation before they can be moved. Several of the paintings suffer from discoloration and peeling, and they are especially fragile because of Munch’s experiments with technique and material, and his often rough way of handling his art. He would sometimes expose artworks to the elements of nature and let the result be part of his artistic expression.

In September 2010, the council decided to give the museum 26 million Norwegian kroner for conservation.

“The Department is facing a new major challenge: preparing all the works of art to be moved to the new museum building in Bjørvika in Oslo. The emergency conservation project started in the end of September. Project leader is P.hd painting conservator Biljana Topalova Casadiego. Emergency conservation of the Stenersen Collection is soon completed.”

Just before Christmas in December 2010, during a cold period in Oslo (minus 18-20 degrees Celsius), the museum had to close several exhibition rooms, including the main exhibition room. Water ran down the inside of the museum walls, other walls where extremely humid, and the air-conditioner and heating system malfunctioned. The director informed the press that the museum had been struggling for a long time with the task of trying to provide a safe environment for the art in an inadequate building with a bad infrastructure. Several problems are due to lack of maintenance and technical insufficiencies. It is very hard to maintain stable temperatures inside the building, especially when the weather outside is cold, and condensation increases in rooms with outer walls. He compares the climate inside to a sauna, it is humid and lacks oxygen. To prevent permanent damage several artworks were put in storage, and employees took turns wiping the walls with cloths to try and keep them dry.

These problems have now been repaired. On Friday 7th of January the rehabilitation of the main exhibition room was finished, the outer walls of the museum had been isolated, and the damaged surfaces inside fixed and painted, according to Sture Portvik.

On January 21st, 2011, a new exhibition with the title “eMunch.no Text and image” opened. The exhibition is accompanied by an online publication of Munch’s texts and is intended to be used as a digital search archive. The museum also plans to make all correspondence to Munch available online as well. In 2008, a catalogue raisonné was published, and senior curator Gerd Woll at the Munch Museum is currently working on a catalogue about Munch’s prints that will be released in both Norwegian and English, according to Sture Portvik.

The museum is currently working on a strategy to make Munch’s art more available and to increase the number of visitors as well as encourage more research, with longer opening hours, lectures, concerts, new digitalized material, English translations and a new museum shop, Stein Olav Henrichsen told the press.

It seems that the museum is on the right track with a new director that has the ambition and will to care properly for Munch’s inheritance. I hope he will have the means. He is dependent on financial support from the council, because there is little private art sponsoring in Norway.

Artist Profile: Edvard Munch, Part One, An Artist's Life


In honor of the Norweigan artist Edvard Munch who died 67 years ago this week, the ARCA blog is posting a three-part series about the life and legacy of the artist associated with two famous art thefts. The author, Therese Veier, attended ARCA’s International Art Crime Conference in July 2010. Ms. Veier has majored in art history and is now completing a final examination in law at the University in Oslo.

By Therese Veier, ARCA blog guest writer

Today, January 23, is the 67th anniversary of the death of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch who lived to the age of 80. People from all over the world travel to Oslo to visit the Munch Museum and the National Gallery of Art in Oslo. His paintings Skrik (The Scream) and Madonna are iconic. The Scream is one of the most reproduced art images, almost equal to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Munch painted several versions of The Scream, as he did with many other motifs. Frequently used themes in his art were love, fear, death and melancholy. Munch did not like to sell his art, which he often referred to as his children. He usually sold works once a year and lived the remaining year on the income from the sales.

According to Munch’s will, the Oslo council inherited approximately 1,100 paintings; 15,500 prints; 4,700 drawings; 6 sculptures; and almost 500 print plates, tools, documents, photographs, note books and furniture which went to the Munch Museum collection. The value today is hard to estimate precisely, but a rough estimate of the collection’s value was set at 20 to 40 billion Norwegian kroner (NOK) some years ago. Inger, Munch’s sister, inherited his collection of letters, 100 prints of her own choosing, and a considerable sum of money. Upon her death, Inger left the museum Munch’s letters as well as several art works. With additional gifts, the museum today owns over half of his paintings and all of his print motifs, which places it in a unique position internationally, and provides the basis for special exhibitions within the museum, worldwide exhibitions, and research. The museum exhibits approximately 70-80 paintings and 70-80 prints at all times. The remaining part of the inheritance remains in storage, except from a small selection of works on loan to exhibitions abroad. In addition, the National Gallery of Art in Oslo and Stenersenmuseet also have important works by Edvard Munch in their collections. The businessman and art collector Rolf E. Stenersen supported and bought Munch’s art early on, and upon his death, the Oslo council inherited his art collection as well. Stenersen and Munch became close friends and Stenersen wrote a biography about the artist.

Because Munch’s will did not specify anything about his large private house at Ekely, his studios and the furniture, all this was given to his heirs, and then bought by the Oslo council in 1946. The idea of building the Munch Museum on Ekely was proposed early on; however, the council tore down the main house in 1960 and built a parking lot, then decided to build the museum in Tøyen, as a result of a political decision to spread the cultural institutions in Oslo. Ekely is behind the Vigeland Park in the west part of Oslo. Tøyen is east in Oslo, and the museum is situated next to the Tøyen Botanical Garden. Luckily, Munch’s studio on Ekely was saved and is used today as residency for artists. The Munch Museum opened in 1963, on the 100th anniversary of his birth. The expenses for the new museum building were financed with profits from Oslo Cinematography, a state-owned company that owned the cinemas in Oslo. The Munch Museum’s website in Oslo is mainly written in Norwegian, but some information is translated to English.

How has Oslo council treated the inheritance left them by Edvard Munch, the most important Norwegian artist, in terms of conservation, priority, adequate funding, study and research?

The following two stories will first address the state of the Munch Museum, followed by a selection of Munch thefts from museums in Norway.