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October 23, 2012

Kunsthal Rotterdam Art Heist: Challenging the blame on the fire alarm automatically opening the back doors for the thieves?

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Dutch Journalist Niels Rutger questions the Kunsthal Rotterdam's statement yesterday that the gallery's doors automatically unlock in the event a fire alarm is triggered. Rutger asks why should the doors unlock at night when the gallery is closed and no visitors are at risk? Security consultant Ton Cremers, founder of Museum Security Network, tells Rutger that the art gallery's emergency door can be pushed open from inside the building and that disarming the locks would make it easy for the thief to pry open the doors.

Thomas Escritt writing for Reuters from Rotterdam on the unbolted doors: The apparent ease with which the thieves entered and escaped has raised questions about the Kunsthal's security system and whether an insider was involved. The Kunsthal said in a statement on Monday that the electronic locks on its doors were in working order, but were designed to automatically unbolt shortly after the burglar alarm was set off. After that, only mechanical door locks stood between the intruders and the Kunsthal's treasures. "The theft on Monday night suggests the intruders forced the lock after the unbolting, presumably quickly," the statement said. The thieves forced the mechanical lock on an emergency exit at the rear of the ground floor gallery. Police arrived at the scene within five minutes, but the intruders had already gone.

Bruce Waterfield for Britian's also writes that "the gang broke a physical lock on an emergency door". Niels Rutger reported last week that a piece of plastic had been used to disengaged the deadbolt (Mr. Rutger confirmed via email to the ARCA Blog that his information was from discussions with security personnel).

According to Bloomberg News' Catherine Hickly in Berlin, the Kunsthal has made "adjustments to its locking system" and its "alarm, camera, and entrance control systems were all inspected in the past few months and a new fire alarm and smoke detectors were installed earlier this year."

Kunstahl's Surveillance video captures thieves in action

The surveillance video from the Kunsthal released on Oct. 20, four days after the theft, shows how two or three individuals entered a rear door of the gallery and removed the paintings in about 2 minutes and 13 seconds. My best guess at viewing the portion of the video released on is that at 3:22:23 a.m. (22 minutes later than initially reported last Tuesday after the theft), someone wearing a hooded sweatshirt is followed by a shorter hooded person into the gallery. I cannot tell if a third person is left outside holding open the door. At 3:24:00, the taller person exits through the door with paintings sticking out of a back on his back. Two seconds later, the second person leaves in the same way. At 3:24:08, someone runs back inside and leaves with supposedly more paintings 16 seconds later. At 3:24:36, the door of the gallery is shut. I asked Mr. Cremers for his professional opinion and this is what he emailed back:
The director stated in a press release that security of the Kunsthal is state of the art, but this unique theft took just two minutes. The CCTV coverage is absolutely below standard. There was no fire alarm, so this press release about fire alarms opening doors - which is absurd during closing hours - is very irrelevant. I have been on Dutch national TV calling for this director to resign because she neglected security, and shows to be fully incompetent.
Here on Ad.NL (Algemeen Dagblad, a major Dutch newspaper) a visitor to the Kunsthal Rotterdam last summer tells of how he and a friend were mistakenly locked inside the same exhibition space that was robbed last week until the security alarm went off and the doors opened to let them out -- and stood around talking about the incident for ten minutes (the Kunsthal denies the timing of this).  Reuters also reported that the motion detector had been repaired in August.

Art historian (and ARCA lecturer) Tom Flynn on his blog "artknows" writes on Kunsthal's security and CCTV footage:
Instead all we have on the Rotterdam heist are a few seconds of grainy CCTV camera footage that might have been shot by Eisenstein on a bad day. So will someone please tell me the purpose of what Kunsthal director Emily Ansenk herself described as a “multi-million-euro high-tech...state-of-the-art security system” if all it can do is mimic out-takes from early Expressionist cinema? And the Oscar goes to....the CCTV camera companies! (for pulling off the greatest multi-million-dollar heist of all).
As for the value of the stolen paintings taken from the Kunsthal Rotterdam last week, Caleb Molby writing for estimates the value of the seven paintings from $36 million to $100 million (Picasso's "Tete d'Arlequin" last auctioned in 2007 for $15.16 million).