Art theft is an impressive-looking crime in movies, involving blue prints, high-tech gadgets and an actor clad in black suspended from the ceiling. But according to "Stealing Rembrandts" — a new book by Anthony Amore and Tom Mashberg '82 — art theft is far less dramatic in real life.
Amore, head of security and chief investigator at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Mashberg, investigative reporter and former Sunday editor for the Boston Herald, discussed the story behind "Stealing Rembrandts" at the Brown Bookstore yesterday evening.
Amore is currently investigating the 1990 theft of 13 pieces of artwork from the Gardner Museum. He began his part of the discussion by describing the theft, his ongoing investigation and how it led to the creation of this book.
The book focuses on thefts of pieces by Rembrandt, one of the artists whose work is most often stolen — Amore said he catalogued at least 81 thefts over the past 100 years in his research.
He said he began researching all the museum and art thefts in recent years in an attempt to answer the question, "What's the M.O. of the typical art thief?"
Instead, he found "there is no such thing as a professional art thief."
The goal of their book, Amore said, is to show that art theft is, if anything, a fool's errand — after the crime has been completed, Amore said, the thief will often discover he or she has stolen a "problem," and not a piece of art.
Thieves "usually cannot monetize" the work, he said, and even if a thief manages to find a buyer, he or she will likely only receive about 10 percent of its actual value.
Many stolen pieces end up hanging over somebody's bar, Amore said.
Mashberg showed a slideshow of stolen pieces and the people identified as the thieves.
"Art thieves generally know nothing about art," Mashberg said. When investigating these crimes, it is best to "focus on local crooks."
In the theft at the Gardner, many of the most valuable pieces were left behind, despite the fact that the thieves were in the museum for 81 minutes, Amore said.
The pieces stolen from Gardner have yet to be recovered, which Amore said has been difficult.
"Walking by those empty frames is like being a homicide detective and walking by the white body outline all the time," Amore said.