Crime and cinema go hand-in-hand, but in real life, art heists are much less romantic than the version we've seen on the big screen.
In the early morning hours of March 18th, 1990, thieves, dressed as police officers enter the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts. They tie up the guards, and over the course of 81 minutes manage to abscond with 13 works of art valued at half a billion dollars. The museum offered a $10 million reward for any information that could lead to the safe return of the stolen works. Some 31-years later, there is still no sign of the works and the FBI’s investigation remains open. To this day, the empty frames of the stolen works hang at the Gardner Museum.
Earlier this year, Netflix released a two-part documentary detailing the events that transpired called “This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist.” This particular robbery has captured the world’s imagination because the works were never recovered, which leaves the authorities wondering, what happened to them? And three decades later, Artist Kota Ezawa is fascinated by the Gardner heist.
The Georgia Museum of Art has an exhibit on display by Ezawa in which the Gardner Heist plays a central role. The Crime of Art is on display now through December 5th and includes reimagined versions of the 13 pieces stolen during the 1990 heist, animated film depicting one of the instances when Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” was stolen, a short film devoted to art heists in cinema, and an interactive section.
Nelda Damiano is the Pierre Daura Curator of European Art at the Georgia Museum of Art and curated this exhibit. She explains that The Crime of Art features lightbox illustrations of the stolen works and says that exhibiting Ezawa’s recreations is exhilarating because it feels almost as if the actual pieces are hanging in the museum here in Athens. As an art historian, that’s as close to the real thing as one can get.
For an artist like Kota Ezawa, the cross section of crime and art is where he finds inspiration. Director of Communications for the Museum, Hillary Brown says that the artist is very interested in crime and appropriation, and "it's almost as if the artists is stealing the works all over again by creating recreations of [the stolen Gardner Museum pieces.]"
The Georgia Museum of Art has quite a few events scheduled in conjunction with The Crime of Art, including a film series showcasing cinema about art heists and a gallery talk with Anthony Amore, the director of Security at the Gardner Museum. All events are open to the public and more information can be found on the museum’s website. Until then, Nelda Damiano says the exhibit is worth a trip.
The Kota Ezawa studio talk mentioned in this piece is now on zoom and not in person. Register for the event here: https://georgiamuseum.org/event/artist-talk-kota-ezawa/