Sunday, August 5, 2018

The art of stealing: "The tragic fate of the masterpieces stolen from Rotterdam"

From  NRC Handelsblad (NL)
Olga is on her own. Her son is in prison, being held on suspicion of having committed what they are calling on television ‘the art theft of the century’. She knows that the accusation is correct. Along with friends, her son Radu stole seven valuable artworks from a museum in Rotterdam, loaded them into a car and drove them to Romania.

There, in Carcaliu, a remote village at the poor south-eastern tip of the country, Olga stands in front of the heating stove in the bathroom. A short while ago she lit the fire then stepped out into the biting cold, making her way to the small graveyard opposite her house where, in the dead of night, she dug up the paintings and brought them back inside.

Picasso, Gauguin, Matisse, Monet, Meijer de Haan and Freud. On television they are talking about a loot worth hundreds of millions of euros. The amount is not important to her. The pictures are evidence against her son and destroying the evidence seems like the only way she can help him.
The artworks go up like tindersticks.

Early in the morning of 16th October 2012, seven valuable artworks were stolen from the Kunsthal in Rotterdam. The theft was world news. But what first seemed like a sophisticated burglary by professionals, turned out to be the work of a few small-time Romanian criminals who had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They knew about house burglaries, not art, and they certainly didn’t know about selling art.

This is the story of the Kunsthal robbery, based on the case files and conversations with those involved.

The alarm

Jan Moerer is first awoken by the sound of his mobile telephone ringing, then his landline. It is 04:28 in the morning. The Kunsthal’s production manager gets out of bed but is twice too late to pick up. The missed calls are from colleague Gert-Jan Knoll, the building supervisor. He calls him back.
Still Life with Cornflowers and Carnations
An alarm has gone off. Paintings may have been stolen.

Half an hour later, Moerer is walking through the building with two security guards. The Van Gogh is the first thing he sees as he enters the exhibition space. Still Life with Cornflowers and Carnations, one of the Triton collection’s key pieces, is still where it should be. It is a painting of an exuberant bouquet of flowers that Van Gogh painted in 1887, a blue vase with blue cornflowers against a blue background. Jan Moerer is relieved.

Then they turn the corner. Seven empty spaces.

The Kunsthal, literally meaning ‘art hall’, on the periphery of the Rotterdam city centre does not have its own collection and isn’t really a museum in the traditional sense of the word. The Kunsthal is dependent on artworks loaned by other art galleries and private collectors. Each year, 160,000 people visit the temporary exhibitions set up in three large rooms, collectively a space of 3,600 square metres.

At the Kunsthal there are no security guards at night – cameras and alarms do all the work. Mobile guards from the security company Trigion can be on the scene in twenty minutes if the alarms are triggered. The police are alerted too.
That night, Mehmet Karadurdu and Jordy Rook are driving through a rainy Rotterdam on their inspection rounds of the various companies that buy into Trigion’s services. At 03:20 they get a call from the control room. A burglar alarm has gone off at the Kunsthal on the Westzeedijk. Their PDAs show them the quickest route to the building. When they arrive eleven minutes later, the police are already on the scene. It had taken the officers just five minutes to get to the Kunsthal.
The Kunsthal is a labyrinthine building full of glass partitions, which signalled architect Rem Koolhaas’s international breakthrough. It is constructed so that some of the works are visible from the outside, like a kind of showroom. When they arrived, the policemen walked around the outside of the eccentric building. They didn’t notice that any of the paintings were missing. They were primarily looking for signs that would point to a break-in. There aren’t any, they tell the newly-arrived Trigion security guards. The officers ask whether they need to stay. No, if there are no signs of a break-in, they can go, the guards tell them. Nine times out of time it’s just a false alarm....