Makes You Wanna Holler, Throw Up Both Your Hands

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A couple of oddments on a holiday weekend.

The British paper The Guardian has a piece about the 1994 theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream from the Munch Museum in Oslo. It’s somewhat overlong but fascinating all the same for it’s two main points.

To begin with, the painting may have been stolen not for its own sake, but to draw off Norwegian police resources from an investigation into a notorious robbery and killing that had taken place earlier that year. Two years ago, before the picture was recovered, I reviewed a book about the Munch theft that summarized the various knuckleheaded reasons that lead thieves to make off with great works of art. Fencing them on the black market — very hard to do — is the least of them. Motives like holding them as collateral for drug deals are just as likely. So stealing a painting to divert the cops from investigating a different crime — why not?

Point two — damage to the painting is worse than we thought. This has been suggested in earlier press accounts but the Guardian’s is the most complete I’ve seen. “A huge watery stain, like a watermark on a teabag, seeps over the bottom left-hand corner, on the walkway and even on the lower part of the figure. Pigment has dissolved or been washed away.” In 2004, right after The Scream was snatched, I wrote about how easy it is to take very valuable works from very lightly defended museums. Ten months after the robbery the Munch Museum re-opened with all of its pictures behind glass and bolted to the wall, a precaution that might have occurred to museum officials in 1994, when a different version of The Scream — there are four altogether — was stolen from the National Gallery in Oslo. But never mind.

On another depressing topic, the re-building of the World Trade Center site, which I vented about last week, it took me until the weekend to get around to Friday’s papers, but when I did I found this Op-Ed piece by the well known structural engineer Guy Nordenson to be an indispensable summing up of nearly everything that’s gone wrong.

Coming soon — some upbeat cultural news and commentary. If I can think of any.

The Scream/Edvard Munch — Munch Museum