March 22, 2012

Joshua Knelman Signed "Hot Art" Tuesday night at Book Soup in Los Angeles

Joshua Knelman speaking at Book Soup
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

LOS ANGELES - Journalist Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art, spoke before an intimate crowd at an informal book signing Tuesday night at Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard.

Recovering from jet lag after arriving from an international book fair in Beijing where he had spoken to a large crown of English-speaking expats, Knelman, settled into a corner of the bookstore, and pointed out the presence of one of the people featured in his book: Giles Waterfield.

Mr. Waterfield, an Associate Professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art, is currently a guest scholar at the Getty Research Institute (The Artist's and Photographer's Studio).  In 1981, he was director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London when on vacation in Scotland he read a newspaper headline "Rembrandt Stolen for Third Time." Rembrandt's Jacob de Gheyn III, nicknamed The Takeaway Rembrandt, had been stolen.  Knelman recounts Waterfield's recovery of the small Rembrandt portrait in Chapter 7 under the title "Headache Art".   

"The Takeaway Rembrandt"
Joshua Knelman was just 26 years old and head of research at the Canadian magazine, The Walrus, when he covered a burglarized art gallery in the Forst Hill section of Toronto.  He soon found himself having coffee at the Caffe Doria in the Rosedale area with the man who would admit to having committed the theft -- a pleasant enough person who tried to manipulate Knelman into accepting the stolen property.

One of the questions raised to Knelman from the audience was the question of legacy -- the recent murder conviction of former Detective Stephanie Lazarus, whom Don Hrycyk on the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Squad had been training to succeed him in 2009 at the time of her arrest, brought up again the issue of who will continue the work of Hrycyk.  Knelman said that the LAPD has not yet found a successor and that Hrycyk is currently working without a partner.  "Detective Hrycyk, with 39 years on the LAPD, is the 8th most senior officer of 10,000 police officer," Knelman said.  "Although there is no retirement age in the LAPD, it will take years for Hrycyk to train someone."

Another question asked was as to why there were so few art crime squads in North America.  "The units are in the secondary markets of Los Angeles and Montreal and not the primary art markets of New York City and Toronto," Knelman said.  "Clearly there should be one in New York.  Recovery rates increase when detectives have the time to spend getting to know the art community, building trust with the art dealers and collectors.  Unlike other property crimes, recovery of artworks may take decades."

And where does the stolen art go? asked another person.  "That is the billion dollar question," Knelman said.  "There are two separate categories.  The very famous stolen masterpieces can be used as currency, but the other stolen artworks, 95% of the stolen art which is valued at less than $100,000 or even $25,000, is laundered back into the art market, stolen in Los Angeles, sold in New York and displayed in Vancouver."

Knelman will be discussing his book, Hot Art, tonight at 8 p.m. at The Flag Art Foundation in New York City.  You can read more about his book here on the ARCAblog.