Largest Art Heist In the World, What Could Have Been Done to Prevent It

6a00d8341cd7ed53ef0112796af2a928a4-800wiAfter countless FBI searches, deals with the mob, and 19 years, $300 million dollars worth of art have still not been recovered.

In 1990 the largest art heist in history was performed resulting in 13 masterpieces of art, from painters like Rembrandt and Manet, missing from the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. Running in circles like chickens without heads, officials were plagued by false leads, empty promises, chases across the globe from China to antique shops in Boston, and failing spirits. 19 years later they have made no arrests and are no closer to retrieving the stolen pieces.

For extremely rare and precious pieces, like Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, which was his only seascape, museums might want to consider embedding GPS tracking devices in the art so that if they ever are stolen they could easily be found again. Instead, officials spent years traveling all over the world following every tip they got, including some very expensive trips to Japan, only to find dead ends or replicated pieces.

But before we think about what could be done after the art is stolen, there are precautions to be taken while still in the museum. First, laser sensor alarms can be placed a certain distance away from paintings that, when crossed, will sound an alarm and notify security that someone has gotten extremely close to the paintings. Other protective measures, such as alarms that automatically shut down the museum if a painting is dismounted, can also be taken.

Another precaution that museums can take is to install hidden cameras. While the Isabella Gardner Museum was smart in setting up surveillance tapes- having them so visible and easily destroyed, renders them almost useless under a serious attack. The surveillance tapes planted in the museum were ripped out by the two thieves along with the paintings. Having smaller, covert surveillance equipment in addition to the more obvious installations can ensure that the thief will be identifiable.

The remains from the pillage can still be seen on the museum. Isabelle Gardner specifically stated in her will that absolutely nothing can be changed about her museum. The savaged corners of some of these masterpieces are still at the scene of the crime. These relics of the theft are the new show on display at the museum now instead of the timeless pieces of art. One must stop and wonder what could have been done to prevent this- what modern day museums could learn from this serious security breach. (Via CNN Archives)

 

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  • Guest1986

    Unfortunately, “alarms that automatically shut down the museum if the painting is dismounted” would raise all kinds of building and fire code violations. Say a fire broke out after alarms shut down the museum and the burglars who were trapped inside the building died, then the museum would be liable for their deaths. As for hidden cameras see Jeremy Bentham on the concept of the panopticon in which he’d likely argue for the effectiveness of cameras within eyeshot because they keep visitors aware that security is “watching” their every move. Who cares if thieves can see themselves being filmed or not. Today, most effective museum security systems run on closed circuit tv AND digital servers – which are much more impenetrable than the vhs recording systems of yesteryear. Finally, your advice for museums today is based on museum security from 1990 (which had been evaluated at the time by security consultants who thought it was on par with other higher profile museums). The greatest mistake the ISGM made was when a guard didn’t check with police HQ before he opened the doors for two phony police officers. Accordingly, more appropriate security advice would be say train your guards to be more attentive and to follow protocol – something that may of course require providing them with better pay, benefits, or other incentives. But why not when they protect “timeless pieces of art?”

  • Guest1986

    Automatically locking down a museum after an alarm is tripped would likely be a violation of building and fire codes. Say a thief becomes locked in and a fire breaks out that eventually kills him, then the museum will be liable for his death. As for hidden cameras see Jeremy Bentham’s writings on the panoptic effect of cameras within eyeshot. This is effective at preventing visitors from acting out of line when they know security is “watching them.” Who cares if thieves can see the cameras filming them or not? Today, most museums record on closed circuit vhs recording devices AND digital servers – so destroying the evidence of a theft is much harder. You’re basing much of your advice for museums today on museum security systems and practices from 1990 (which at the time received a fair evaluation from security consultants). Additionally, the greatest mistake in museum security made at the ISGM was one of human error when a guard failed to contact police HQ before opening the doors for two phony police officers. Accordingly, your advice should be to better train your guards in the current protocols and best practices in museum security. Likely, museums will also need to create some more incentive for guards to do their jobs more efficiently probably by raising wages and benefits. But that should be a no brainer when they protect these timeless pieces of art.

    • guest199

      i couldnt agree more very well said.

      • Name

        What could have been done to prevent it? Well if the Musuem of Fine Arts had made it public knowledge that on M.L.K. day in 1990 (one month before the Gardner robbery) there was an attempted robbery of the M.F.A. by 2 people dressed as police and saying they had reciced a call about a disturbance, that might have helped.

  • Guest1986

    Unfortunately, “alarms that automatically shut down the museum if the painting is dismounted” would raise all kinds of building and fire code violations. Say a fire broke out after alarms shut down the museum and the burglars who were trapped inside the building died, then the museum would be liable for their deaths. As for hidden cameras see Jeremy Bentham on the concept of the panopticon in which he'd likely argue for the effectiveness of cameras within eyeshot because they keep visitors aware that security is “watching” their every move. Who cares if thieves can see themselves being filmed or not. Today, most effective museum security systems run on closed circuit tv AND digital servers – which are much more impenetrable than the vhs recording systems of yesteryear. Finally, your advice for museums today is based on museum security from 1990 (which had been evaluated at the time by security consultants who thought it was on par with other higher profile museums). The greatest mistake the ISGM made was when a guard didn't check with police HQ before he opened the doors for two phony police officers. Accordingly, more appropriate security advice would be say train your guards to be more attentive and to follow protocol – something that may of course require providing them with better pay, benefits, or other incentives. But why not when they protect “timeless pieces of art?”

  • Guest1986

    Automatically locking down a museum after an alarm is tripped would likely be a violation of building and fire codes. Say a thief becomes locked in and a fire breaks out that eventually kills him, then the museum will be liable for his death. As for hidden cameras see Jeremy Bentham's writings on the panoptic effect of cameras within eyeshot. This is effective at preventing visitors from acting out of line when they know security is “watching them.” Who cares if thieves can see the cameras filming them or not? Today, most museums record on closed circuit vhs recording devices AND digital servers – so destroying the evidence of a theft is much harder. You're basing much of your advice for museums today on museum security systems and practices from 1990 (which at the time received a fair evaluation from security consultants). Additionally, the greatest mistake in museum security made at the ISGM was one of human error when a guard failed to contact police HQ before opening the doors for two phony police officers. Accordingly, your advice should be to better train your guards in the current protocols and best practices in museum security. Likely, museums will also need to create some more incentive for guards to do their jobs more efficiently probably by raising wages and benefits. But that should be a no brainer when they protect these timeless pieces of art.

    • guest199

      i couldnt agree more very well said.

      • Name

        What could have been done to prevent it? Well if the Musuem of Fine Arts had made it public knowledge that on M.L.K. day in 1990 (one month before the Gardner robbery) there was an attempted robbery of the M.F.A. by 2 people dressed as police and saying they had reciced a call about a disturbance, that might have helped.