Saturday, February 25, 2012

Join us at KW Art Gallery on Wednesday March 7th to hear Ex-FBI agent Robert K. Wittman speak about art crime! Doors open at 7:30, tickets $15 advance, $20 at the door.

      Priceless opens with a bang and so begins a rollicking ride inside the world of art theft and the undercover rescue of the world's stolen treasures. I read Priceless practically overnight and have recounted many of its riveting scenes in my head ever since. It's a book that sinks it's teeth in and won't let go.

Robert Wittman worked as an FBI special agent for 20 years as the senior investigator of the Art Crime Team, at a time when there was very little interest in art theft recovery. The FBI were more concerned with responding to drug trafficking and there was the general perception of art theft as being a "victimless crime". Following his passion, and after a personal tragedy, Wittman persued art theft cases specifically, going undercover in the most dangerous of circumstances. His most notable case being the $500 million Gardner Museum theft in 1990, "the largest property crime in U.S. history". Multiple very well-known pieces of art history were stolen that night -- works by Degas, Rembrandt, Manet -- and the thieves were able to spend over an hour in the gallery, cutting paintings away from frames and leaving strange clues, before security showed up. After 16 years, and continual dead-end leads from the public, the case wound up on Wittman's desk. Along with one new, and very credible, clue.

Contained within the frame of the Gardner Museum case are the years that Wittman spent undercover solving thefts from galleries and museums across the world. And each riveting, well-paced story could be made into a film. Despite the seemingly harmless nature of the crime, art thieves are looking to make hundreds of thousands of dollars with their black market sale (In many cases this is a very small fraction of the piece's value), which can make a person desperate and dangerous. Wittman tells the most fantastic stories about the lengths these criminals can go, the types of people who are attracted to art theft, and how he collectively returned millions of dollars of irreplaceable art and antiquities to their rightful homes.

I was very impressed with the depth of insight and savvy that Robert shows during a case and I'm really looking forward to meeting him on March 7th. Priceless reads like a detective novel, while his insights into human nature and his knowledge about the art world is incredibly vast. He weaves a crime story, an introductory art appreciation lecture, and a personal memoir all-in-one. But chiefly entertains.

Priceless, indeed.


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