Claiming that there is not enough budget to protect very valuable objects really is confession of guilt
May 11, 2003, Benvenuto Cellini’s Saliera (salt cellar) was stolen from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which was covered byscaffolding at that time due to reconstruction works. In the press one could read: Vienna’s ‘Mona Lisa of sculptures’ stolen / Cellini’s‘Saliera,’ worth $57 million, taken from museum. And: “Climbing scaffolding and smashing a window early Sunday, thieves slipped intoVienna’s Art History Museum and — despite high-tech motion sensorsand round-the-clock guards — disappeared with a 16th-century gold-plated masterpiece sculpted by Benvenuto Cellini. The stealthy andstunning heist was one of the biggest art thefts in Europe in recentyears. The intricate, 10-inch-high sculpture, known is valued at about$57 million.”
The facts appeared to be quite different. A former Scotland Yard art detective, now a private consultant, claimed that a Serbian gang was involved in this theft. Why? Because “the guard who turned off the alarm system when it was activated had recently married a Serbian lady”. Talking about sound investigativework, and rather discriminatory as well.
September 2006, the real culprit Robert Mang was jailed four years for the theft of the Cellini Saliera, which Mang called a “prank”. And a prank it must have been. Mang hardly prepared his crime. Passing one evening, a bit plastered, he just climbed the scaffolding, smashed a window, and a display case and climbed down with the Saliera under his arm.
The burglary and theft took place in 56 seconds. In those days I wrote a Museum Security Network blog that the director, Wilfried Seipel, of the museum ought to be dismissed offhand. Either his museum employed an unqualified security manager – for which the general director is responsible – or the director of the museum did just swing away all advice a qualified security manager gave. In both cases the director has the final responsibility, and in my opinion should leave.
It is by no means acceptable that a € 30 million piece de resistance, the absolute highlight of this museum, could be stolen as easily as Robert Mang did.
My blog evoked an angry reaction by the very same imaginative former Scotland Yard art sleuth. I should not be that harsh on the victimized director. Shouldn’t I?
Almost ten years after Mang’s ‘simple comme bonjour’ theft from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the De Kunsthal experienced an almost similar burglary and theft. It took three small time Romanian criminals – a child’s play – two minutes to break into De Kunsthal, and get away with seven paintings.
Maybe a well prepared – too well for they visited De Kunsthal several times, and were easily traced via CCTV – burglary, and theft. However, with a ridiculous epilogue. After the theft they hid the paintings some two weeks in Rotterdam, just two blocks away from my apartment, and took them to Romania where they very clumsily started peddling the stolen paintings. The suspects have been arrested.
While writing this (April 15, 2013) the paintings are still missing.
Criminals may always be able to break in a museum through the outershell of the building, but it is absolutely inacceptable that they can steal millions worth of objects, even a highlight as Cellini’s Saliera, within a minute, or seven paintings within two minutes.
If that happens there is something fundamentally wrong. The awkward public presentation of the De Kunsthal director, Emily Ansenk, made matters even worse. After the theft she stated at a press conference that the security of De Kunsthal ‘is state of the art’.
An embarrassing blunder.
Seven valuable paintings stolen during a two minutes burglary, but the security is ‘state of the art’…
In both thefts there is a lesson to be learned. Intruder alarm systems have a very limited value when criminals are able to get in as easily as in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and De Kunsthal in Rotterdam.
No alarm response organisation can cope with such a structural vulnerability. In another Dutch museum heist, Gouda March 21, 2012, thieves used explosives to force their way in. It is quite difficult to stop that. It can be done, but not easily, and not in all buildings. What can be done however is to prevent thieves from stealing highlights after they enter. At least not as quickly as in both mentioned museums.
Structural, burglar-proof shells must be similar to the peels of an onion. Every time one peel is removed there will be another one. These might be burglar resistant doors and roller shutters, but may also be high-end burglar-proof display cases.
Claiming that there is not enough budget to protect very valuable objects really is confession of guilt. It means that valuable objects
are displayed irresponsibly..