Noah Charney's misconceptions about art theft

At mr. Charney repeats platitudes about the scope of art crime. Nothing new to report, just a repetition: “Most people assume that art crime consists of only a handful of museum heists each year; in actuality, it has become the third-highest–grossing world criminal trade over the past 40 years, regularly perpetrated by or on behalf of organized crime syndicates and used to fund other illicit activities, such as drugs or arms trades”. Most people? One wonders how Mr. Charney knows what ‘most people’ think. Too bad Charney restricts himself in his 2008 review to only a handful heists – yes, exactly 5 heists – without any factual information to support his opinion about what most people think.

Referring to map thief Farhad Hakimzadeh who was arrested November 2008 for having stolen circa 150 rare maps and manuscripts from the British and Bodleian Libraries mr. Charney really mixes up fact and fiction and gets trapped in his own excitement:
“Hakimzadeh is a perfect exception to the rule stated zealously by many art police — that in real life, there are no Thomas Crowns or Doctor Nos. Authorities try to extinguish the fictional concept of art crime, because it distracts from the true severity of the act and stands in the way of their investigations, but every now and then, a Thomas Crown creeps out of the celluloid and into real life — reminding us that, like it or not, there is sometimes a certain romance attached to art crime.”

Daring statements by Charney, but Farhad Hakimzadeh by no means is a perfect exception to this non-existing rule. There are many, too many, examples of thieves who steal without intention to sell stolen objects. There is no ‘rule zealously stated by many art police’ that stealing for the mere desire to possess items is exceptional. There is another rule stated zealously and most rightfully by police and scientists: there are no examples of theft to order by collectors who want – like Dr. No – enjoy stolen objects secretly on a deserted island (or in the basement). THAT is a celluloid fantasy and not real life.

Charney’s statements that “art thefts may certainly be sexy to read about” and “there is sometimes a certain romance attached to art crime” tells a lot about himself and nothing about art theft as a criminal activity.

Charney loves hyperbolic descriptions to authorize his fantasies “thousands of objects worth tens of millions of dollars are stolen from archives each year in the United States alone”. He even knows how this is possible “rare book archives and libraries are dismayingly under-protected, and archive theft is perhaps the simplest of art crimes”. Rare book archives? Is this a mixture of archives and rare book collections? Archive theft an ART crime? Wake up Noah, try and be a bit more precise in your texts and stop embarrassing your (London) university professor.

Archive theft the simplest of art crimes? This seems an invitation on behalf of Charney for all potential thieves. Let them be aware. It is not as easy as Charney states. The arrest of several map and document thieves – both outsider and insider thieves – the past years shows that it is not that easy and that theft of maps, documents and books can be quite tricky.

Those who want to become real experts in the field of art crime can attend a course organized by Charney. For just $ 20,000.00 – Charney’s tariff too is quite hyperbolic – Charney will supply you with a certificate.

Ton Cremers

Museum Security Network / Museum Security Consultancy

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