Art is a valuable commodity – no surprise there. What’s astonishing is how much gets stolen and how little law enforcement agencies can do about it.
That’s because the art and antiques world is a shadowy one, full of fearless thieves and dealers, even creditable ones, who couldn’t care less whether the valuable works they’re selling represent ill-gotten gains.
Add to that the fact that police have a hard time getting resources for recovering works of art and prosecuting perpetrators – compared to, say, doing something about violent crime – and it’s no wonder art theft is a growth industry.
Toronto-based investigative journalist Joshua Knelman delves deeply into the phenomenon in his consistently interesting Hot Art. By interviewing police specialists, museum curators, dealers and some actual art thieves, Knelman makes surprising discoveries.
Among them: there are fewer than five police units specializing in stolen art in North America, and none of them has any idea what the others are doing. They have, however, used online resources to develop instruments – lists of stolen art, for example – that make tracking down thefts easier.
The value of art has increased exponentially, more in the past five years than in the 25 years before that. It’s estimated that the annual trade in stolen art is worth upwards of $4 billion. That can only grow, given that so many of these transactions are cash-based, which in turn makes art theft and sale an excellent means of laundering money.
Knelman writes about all this in lively prose, but, as is often the case with books rich in detail, Hot Art can get repetitive. He does like to hammer away at his themes.
Though he gets a little carried away when it comes to colourful descriptions of locations and characters, those characters are fascinating, especially obsessive LAPD officer Donald Hrycyk and Brighton, UK-based thief Paul, who tells all about his various misdeeds.http://www.amazon.com/Hot-Art-Chasing-Thieves-Detectives/dp/1935639382/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325785372&sr=1-1