After touring the Dallas Museum of Art a few weeks back, I had an opportunity to see firsthand how important it is to have multiple layers of security. Obviously museums house millions of dollars worth of artwork, so security is not something to be taken lightly.
Unfortunately, the Paris' Art Deco-style Museum of Modern Art has found out the hard way how critical security is in protecting valuable art. The museum recently suffered what is being deemed one of the largest art heists after five famous pieces were stolen on May 20.
A masked figure was able to saw off a padlock, break a window, avoid three guards and steal five paintings worth more than $100 million. While the thief was caught on camera, apparently the museum's security system was not functioning and did not sound an alarm that an intruder had entered the building. Apparently, the alarm system had been broken since March 30, according to this article in the Los Angeles Times.
"The director of the museum should be fired right away," said Ton Cremers, a museum security consultant and former head of security at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. "It's unthinkable that your security system not be fully working for two months. It's like inviting the thieves in."
The worse part is that the museum spent $19 million on a security upgrade from 2004 to 2006.
But apparently security wasn't exactly known for being tight at the museum. Here's my favorite part of the article:
Thursday night, after the TV cameras had left, a few skateboarders were back, practicing jumps on what everyone calls "the dome," a U-shaped stone square between the Museum of Modern Art and the adjacent Tokyo Palace contemporary art museum.
"It doesn't shock me that they got in there," said skateboarder Kevin Keubeuze, 16, a regular at the site. "It's not a place that's super watched-over."
On many nights, people bring beers and might practice juggling or circus acts, he said. From "the dome," they can look at paintings inside the Museum of Modern Art through large windows.
However, the museum has high hopes that the pieces will eventually be recovered. Cremers said about half the paintings stolen from museums are recovered, but it takes an average of seven years. The thieves in such cases, he said, "are usually ordinary criminals who also steal cars" and "have no idea what to do with the art."
And because it's so hard to sell such well-known artwork, chances are they'll resurface, or at least that's what the museum is banking on:
Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr, president of the Tokyo Palace museum, told LCI French television just outside the cordoned-off museum that "no collector in the world is stupid enough to put his money in a painting he can neither show to other collectors nor resell without going to prison."
"So Messieurs les Thieves, you are imbeciles!" he said. "Bring back the paintings, please."
His logic might be faulty, but at least he's polite.