Showing posts with label Ulrich Boser. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ulrich Boser. Show all posts

March 21, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Author Ulrich Boser Writing in The New York Times on "Learning from the Gardner Art Theft"

Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), in The New York Times March 21 in "Learning from the Gardner Theft", comments on the long investigation into the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:
Twenty-three years may seem like an inordinate amount of time to solve a burglary, but the Gardner case has actually come a long way from the days when it sometimes seemed to sit on the F.B.I.’s investigative back burner — and the robbery has done a lot to change the way that museums protect their art.
Mr. Boser offers his observations in writing about the case:
Over the years, it hasn’t seemed as if federal investigators have always made the case a top priority. When I first started reporting on the theft, for instance, the museum’s director, Anne Hawley, suggested that she had not always been satisfied with the bureau’s commitment to the case. Ms. Hawley, the director since 1989, said that the first agent assigned to the case seemed very green. “Why didn’t the F.B.I. have the capacity to assign a senior-level person?” she asked me in 2007. “Why was it not considered something that needed immediate and high-level attention?”
Mr. Boser also comments on the unnamed thieves the FBI has identified in its investigation:
As for the men who robbed the museum, there’s been some good evidence over the years regarding their identities. In my book on the theft, I pointed the finger at the Boston mobster David Turner. As part of my reporting, I examined F.B.I. files that indicated that Mr. Turner was an early suspect, and he bears a strong resemblance to the composite drawing made of one of the thieves. In a letter to me, Mr. Turner denied any role in the theft, but he also told me that if I were to put his picture on my book’s cover, I would sell more copies. 

More important, there are signs that the paintings may hang on the walls of the museum again. At the news conference on Monday, the F.B.I. announced that in the years after the theft, someone took the stolen Gardner art to Connecticut and Philadelphia and offered it up for sale. This suggests that the canvases might still be in good condition.

March 18, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations Provided Distraction for the Robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

Rembrandt's The Storm on the
 Sea of Galilee
is his only seascape.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCABlog Editor

The Boston Globe highlighted the 15th anniversary.  PBS News hour noted the 20th anniversary (along with numerous other media outlets). Anthony Amore, the security director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, has his contact information plastered on the museum's website to collect the lastest leads on the masterpieces stolen from Boston on St. Patrick's Day weekend in 1990.  Despite all these efforts and a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of stolen paintings by such recognizable artists as Rembrant and Vermeer, empty frames continue to save the spaces on the walls from where these masterpieces were hung by their benefactor.

In 2009, Ulrich Boster published a book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Art Theft and a year later the Federal Bureau of Investigation used billboards to get the public to help solve the mystery of the largest art theft in American history.  The thieves removed works of art highlighted by Vermeer's The Concert; Rembrandt's A Lady and Gentleman in Black; Rembrant's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee; Rembrandt's Self-Portrait; and Govaert Flinck's Landscape with Obelisk, and Manet's Chez Tortoni. You may view the images of the missing art on the website of Stolen the Film, Rebecca Dreyfus' documentary highlighting art detective Harold Smith's efforts and obsession to find the paintings.

Just after midnight, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in America's most Irish of cities provided cover for two unarmed men to enter the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum dressed as police officers and to leave 90 minutes later with 13 stolen items worth more than $300 million.  Unconditional immunity offered to anyone who helps locate or recover these paintings.

July 1, 2009

Unreported Art Crimes

In the most recent US News & World Report Ulrich Boser has written an article on the FBI Crime Team. While researching for this piece Boser referred to ARCA's Art Crime Facts page, and asked me why so many art crimes go unreported. In my response I discussed how objects from unknown archaeological sites have not yet been registered, studied, or cataloged prior to the theft and thus are left unnoticed. Museums may be reluctant to report art thefts because it highlights shortcomings in their security. An institution's and its leadership's respect and reputation are at stake as well.

Additionally, in my discussion I described how museums and cultural institutions are often wary of reporting thefts as it can discourage other institutions and individuals from loaning works of art for special exhibitions - the cash cow for many institutions. To confirm my suspicions that special exhibitions are a source of considerable income I examined the 2006-2007 financial reports of several high-profile art museums. For example, the Philadelphia Museum of Art reported an income of $1,839,449 from special exhibitions. This amounted to a shade over 29% of the museum's program service revenue ($6,281,637 - program service revenue is revenue from admissions, special exhibition ticket sales, concession sales etc., BUT not membership dues or government grants - usually the largest portions of an institution's total revenue). Another institution, the Wadsworth Atheneum reported that in 2007 its income from special exhibitions was more than double its income from regular admissions ($842,218 versus $401,527 respectively). Although special exhibitions can be great sources of income for museums, they are also instrumental in sustaining and attracting donors and grants.

While scrutinizing a number of institutions' balance sheets I found some other things of note regarding special exhibitions and an institution's spending. The Wadsworth Atheneum whose net assets total just a little over a tenth of that of the Art Institute of Chicago nevertheless tallies more in special exhibition expenses than the Art Institute ($1,066,435 versus 1,061,113 respectively). Evidently, the Wadsworth views special exhibitions as great opportunities for growth.

Finally, it would appear that loan fees are not sources for much income for art museums. Of the institutions I researched only the Art Institute of Chicago listed how much loaned art brought into the museum ($166,140). Accordingly, it is clear that any fear for the security and safety of an institution's work of art certainly outweighs the potential (albeit minimal) monetary gains and could therefore dissuade them from loaning it to institutions that are considered to be at risk or prone to art theft.

*Original Post at Art Theft Central

March 15, 2009

ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore in the New York Times

ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore, Security Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, just appeared in a New York Times feature article. You can see Mr Amore in action in an upcoming episode of "America's Most Wanted" which will feature the unsolved Gardner theft. We salute Mr Amore and his outstanding efforts, both as a security director and in his investigation of the Gardner theft. An extensive interview with Mr Amore will appear in the upcoming book, Art & Crime, the first book published under the auspices of ARCA (published by Praeger this coming June 30). Friend of ARCA Ulrich Boser appears in the same article. An interview with Mr Boser appears in this blog. Mr Amore and Mr Boser appeared along with ARCA Director Noah Charney on a National Public Radio broadcast about the Gardner theft, which may be accessed below. We salute our colleagues, and will include further updates on the Gardner case as they become available.

Radio Boston's Gardner Theft Coverage

February 20, 2009

The Gardner Heist: An Interview with Author Ulrich Boser

Nearly twenty years after the largest art theft in history, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum whodunit mystery remains unsolved. Even as the hollow frames secured to the museum’s walls endure – wistfully remembering the million-dollar works of art they once decorated – the ISGM continues to thrive and be embraced by an artistic community that treats the Venetian palazzo not as damaged goods, but as a survivor. The museum is a testament to Mrs. “Jack” Gardner’s personal devotion to the arts. It transcends the collection of cultural curiosities it evolved into during her lifetime, and has become a retreat for people who share common affection for its contents.

Adopted by the city of Boston after marrying one of its richest sons, Gardner made “frequent ‘copy’ for two hemispheres” as she traveled the world and lived the life of an eccentric heiress. In his book, Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (sold for $6 in 1925), Morris Carter, the museum’s first director, describes how her villa and its collection filled the void left by her inability to have children (a tragic childbirth in which her only child died in infancy resulted in Gardner’s being unable to have children thereafter). Gardner’s collection, which came to life with each new acquisition, seems to have assuaged these sorrows.

For many, a trip to the museum has become similar to what Gardner’s European travels were for her, “the opportunity for the acquisition of knowledge and cultural expansion.” The thieves, who for over an hour perused the collection, carried out not only priceless works of art, but also a portion of Mrs. Jack Gardner’s vibrant legacy.

Recently, in anticipation of the upcoming release of The Gardner Heist on February 24th, I was fortunate enough to speak with author Ulrich Boser, and hear what he had to say about the largest art theft in history.

MD: How did you come to inherit the files of famed art detective Harold Smith?

UB: Shortly after Smith died, I contacted his family and asked if I could look through his Gardner files. At first, they told me that his files were missing, that it appeared that someone had thrown them out. The family kept hunting, and it turned out that a number of Smith’s most important files had in fact been saved, including police reports and copies of old interviews. Smith had also written up some fictional accounts of his biggest cases, which his daughter Tara gave me. Smith’s family was very gracious, very open. I could not have written the book without their support.

MD: Did the ISGM assist you in your investigation and research?

UB: When I first sent my request for an interview to the museum’s public relations director, she emailed me back and said: “We have to decline access.” If I needed quotes, I could get a written statement from the director of the museum or interview the head of security. But I continued to write emails and letters, and we built up trust and a shared understanding. And since then the museum has been exceptionally supportive. They allowed me to interview director Anne Hawley. They allowed me to use images of the paintings. I’m particularly indebted to director of security Anthony Amore. He’s an ace investigator; he has been very helpful to me.

MD: What was your most memorable moment not contained in the pages of The Gardner Heist that you experienced?

UB: I wished I could have spent more time discussing Smith’s investigation of the Golden Door robbery. It took Smith years to crack the case; it is believed to be the largest gold heist in American history. I also talked a lot with art detective Charley Hill. That was also cut from the manuscript. Hill is a fascinating person and a great art detective. He was written up in Dolnick’s excellent book The Rescue Artist.

MD: How do you account for the eclectic selection of works stolen from the ISGM?

UB: While I think the Gardner thieves were expert criminals, they were not professional art thieves, and I think they didn’t really know the value of what they were taking. The thieves stole a few big-name items—the Rembrandts, the Vermeer—and then they seem to have nabbed whatever else caught their eye. How else can you explain the theft of the finial? The ku? Those items are valuable. But compared to a Vermeer or a Titian, they are little more than knickknacks.

MD: Why did the ISGM thieves not try to steal works of art that might have been easier to sell on the market (e.g. the Zorn’s in the Blue Room on the first floor)?

UB: If the thieves wanted to steal items and slip them back into the legitimate art market, they did make some good choices. The finial, the ku, you could certainly sell those artifacts on e-Bay. You might not get much money, but you could certainly pawn them off. The Vermeer, of course, would be nearly impossible to sell on the open market.

MD: How did your experiences as a journalist help or hinder you in your extensive research for The Gardner Heist?

UB: On one side, it helped. People want publicity, and so they would talk to me in an effort to get their story out to the public. On the other hand, being a journalist did occasionally hinder my efforts. I had to abide by journalistic norms, and I always identified myself as a reporter, I always made sure that off the record comments stayed off the record.

MD: How do you account for why the thieves spent such little time on the first floor of the museum and did not even make it up to the third floor where there are works by Titian, Velazquez, and Botticelli?

UB: Honestly I can’t tell you why the thieves spent such little time on the first and third floor. What is interesting, though, is the fact that the thieves were in the museum for over an hour. By the standards of a robbery, that’s a lifetime. Indeed, many robberies are over in minutes. And I think it shows that the thieves had a working knowledge of the museum’s security system before they entered the building. They must have had some sort of inside connection.

MD: As the global recession worsens will criminals involved in or close to the heist become more inclined to find the paintings and return them for the $5 million reward? Or is this more proof that those involved in the heist and its aftermath do not know the location of the works of art?

UB: I think that if someone had the art—and they were inclined to return it—they would have done it already. So yes what seems more likely is that those involved in the heist no longer know the location of the works of art. But no one knows for sure. After all, the art has not been returned. That’s the great mystery of the case.

MD: Do you believe that such a “successful” heist could occur in a museum of the same caliber as the ISGM today?

UB: The Gardner has done a lot to improve their security. They have many more cameras, many more guards, much better training. But the bottom line is that almost any museum can be robbed. If a thief is committed, they can usually find a way. But keep in mind that museums much larger than the Gardner get hit up too. In November 2006, for instance, someone managed to swipe some fossils from one of the Smithsonian’s galleries.

In the upcoming weeks, Boser will be on-tour stopping at a number of bibliophilic venues for readings, signings, and discussions. One may find his schedule here. Also, his passion for the unsolved Gardner heist has inspired him to organize “The Open Case – a magazine and web community devoted to solving unsolved crimes,” coming March 2009.

Originally posted at Art Theft Central: The Gardner Heist: An Interview with Author Ulrich Boser