Art theft: Overseas shopping list?

2012-11-12 22:36

Johannesburg - An official hinted on Monday that growing international demand for South African artwork might be the reason for a brazen robbery at the Pretoria Art Museum where art worth about R17.5m was stolen.

Five pieces were stolen from the museum's permanent collection on Sunday when thieves posing as art students staged a daring arm robbery.

"Three men, under the pretence of being students and their art lecturer, asked to view specific pieces. After they were shown the paintings, they then tied up the museum official at gunpoint and took off with six paintings," mayoral spokesperson Pieter de Necker said.

"They left one painting [by] Irma Stern behind. Presumably because it was too big to fit into their [getaway] car."

The thieves left as private security guards at the museum drew close to them, he said.

According to museum staff, the thieves arrived with a "shopping list" of what they wanted, and demanded to be given specific paintings, Sapa reported.

After holding staff member Dawood Khan at gunpoint, they took out their list, and demanded to know where the paintings were.

De Necker said he and others believe the thieves were commissioned to go after those specific pieces because of their behaviour at the museum, according to AP.

"We're very, very surprised. It is very uncommon," he said.

"We have realised also that over the last few years ... the overseas market has grown into wanting South African art."

The robbers favoured oil paintings in their theft, grabbing a 1931 painting by artist Irma Stern of brightly coloured fishing boats waiting against a pier (Fishing Boats), a gouache drawing of an eland and bird (Eland And Bird - 1961) by landscape artist JH Pierneef, a pastel-toned street scene (Street Scene) by Gerard Sekoto, a thick-stroked oil painting of a chief (Hottentot Chief) by Hugo Naude and a 1936 picture of a cat near a vase full of petunias (Cat And Petunias) by Maggie Laubser.

Lucrative crime

Art theft is the third most lucrative crime in the world, after drugs and illicit arms sales, according to Interpol and the FBI.

However, actually selling famous works remains difficult for criminals either locally where the theft happened or abroad, authorities say.

Despite the challenges, estimates suggest there are billions of dollars made in stolen art sales annually across the world.

De Necker said national and international art organisations had been notified about the robbery and had been forwarded details of the paintings.

Police spokesperson Katlego Mogale said authorities had been alerted in case the thieves tried to take the art work outside of the country.

"The investigation is continuing," Mogale said. "Every measure is being put in place."

The museum has closed provisionally and will re-open on on 20 November.

"The art museum has taken precautionary steps by removing other valuable pieces until the police have completed their investigation," De Necker said.

He said that the city would also tighten security at the museum.

Three private security guards were on duty when the robbery took place, and security cameras were out of order.

"It is unfortunate the CCTV cameras were not working this weekend. A fault was reported on Thursday and has been fixed today," said De Necker.

He said the brazen robbery was a wake-up call that security needed to be tightened at museums across South Africa.

"Security at museums should be improved. This incident calls for extra measures to be implemented," he said.

  • hiebner - 2012-11-12 22:53

    Very convenient that the cameras were not working on that particular day :(

      john.barbarian.9 - 2012-11-13 00:54

      Interesting how quickly the lost of 17.5m come out publicly. and...Who is the pure underwriter owning the damage? Thats what im calling a quick "auction".

      sicelo.brukwe.9 - 2012-11-13 06:22

      I smell a dead rat here!

      fussed.anderson - 2012-11-13 07:07

      Yesterday it was R8mil, now 17.7M I would say follow THE new 1.5bn road

      liels - 2012-11-13 08:34

      They are considering it was an inside job, specifically because the CCTV Cameras weren't working. Very Thomas Crown Affair...

  • debduplessis - 2012-11-12 22:54

    Typical diversion tactic.... I happy to check locally first - its will turn up in some newly renovated place!

      john.barbarian.9 - 2012-11-13 00:58

      Right....Probably those paintings are already destroyed. Money are cashed out not by sticking them on the wall, but robbing insurance companies. Welcome to the real world.

      jam3son.walk3r - 2012-11-13 06:48

      Perhaps in zuma ville

  • archie.mooki - 2012-11-12 23:01 Nkandla overseas? those paintings are in fraud monument in Nkandla Kwa Zulu Natal

  • Andile S. Mphephethwa - 2012-11-12 23:38

    inside job, someone got paid to fiddle with the CCTV, someone also got the measurements wrong for the main painting...

  • rhett.deklerk - 2012-11-13 00:06

    Start with the security camera down time

  • luytster - 2012-11-13 00:38

    This left the country yesterday, along with a few rhino horns, in some cadre's "diplomatic bag" which they refused to have searched.

  • robert.doyle.712 - 2012-11-13 00:45


  • beverly.young3 - 2012-11-13 00:55

    Ho hum, sorry but I posted this yesterday. My bet is that those paintings are loooong gone. Its is such a 'normal' type of scam. They take the paintings out of their frame, paste a 'new' painting over the 'work' and then re-frame the '2' back into the frame. Wrap with bubble wrap and its a done deal. The other method is to take the canvas out, roll very tightly, and insert into a plastic pipe.Transported as household goods, customs to not give it a second look. They only do scans for drugs. Last method they found out, was that an artist painted over the works with an acrylic paint. Perfect, doesno damage at all. There are dozens of web pages of 'missing' works of art. One page reported of a certain painting that was 'returned' 32 years later. Those guys got maybe R50000 ? each for an hours work. poof! easy peasy. I still think that the curator? or whoever needs investigation, it was too smooth.

      beverly.young3 - 2012-11-13 01:08

      Oh I forgot the point of my explanation: Yes there are shopping lists. 'They' send out messages...(paintings are quoted by size)..e.g "mastern 6 x 6, spring". (Irma Stern -size etc). Sorry I am being boring. I so collect, and have some beautiful paintings, (nothing like the stolen ones) which I bought 40 years ago, the values are astounding, or the appreciation in values for hard assets. I am sad for the loss of these works of art.

      mshiniboys - 2012-11-13 04:58

      And how come you know so much about it....are you part of the syndicate??

      kate.oxley - 2012-11-13 08:00

      No he watches White Collar!

  • robert.doyle.712 - 2012-11-13 05:04

    stop blaming overseas you EVIL Marmite Monsters

  • Hangwanie - 2012-11-13 06:59

    Why after every robbery we hear things like CCTV was out of order, is this planned? I smell a rat

  • mskittylicious - 2012-11-13 07:07

    Bit obvious with the cameras not working. Haven't they watched any movies lately? That's generally the first sign.

  • johnnie.walker.7503314 - 2012-11-13 09:28

    Blame it on apartheid!

  • mhlonishwa.chiliza - 2012-11-13 12:28

    This world is horrible the state is not taking care of artists and art itself....this is a pure exploitation!

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