Stolen art and the black market

The LA Times is reporting that all the stolen art from Jeffrey Gundlach’s Santa Monica home have been recovered. The theft, which took place sometime between September 12 and 14, was valued at almost $10 million and included works from Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, Philip Guston, Franz Kline and Richard Diebenkorn, among others.

Such a high profile heist would certainly be all over the news. In fact, Gundlach offered a $1.7 million reward for the safe return of the artwork. Luckily, the police worked quickly and apprehended two suspects, with possibly still more out there. It was not a moment too soon, as the Mondrian was in the process of being sold. Not all art thefts have a happy ending. Three hundred million dollars worth of artwork, including three Rembrandts, were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990. The artworks are still missing and the thieves never caught.

As the Mondrian was in the midst of a black market deal, there are clearly people who are not above owning stolen goods. But what can you do with a stolen Mondrian or Rembrandt? You can’t show it in public and you are always looking over your shoulder. You can’t trust many people and it would be difficult if and when you want to move (i.e. sell) it.

The entertainment collectibles industry isn’t immune to theft either. Perhaps the most high profile movie prop stolen was a pair of the Ruby Red Slippers on display at the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN in 2005. Everything about that theft was suspicious: 2-year-old museum with a state-of-the-art security system that happened to not have been activated. But like a masterpiece artwork, what can you do with a priceless pair of shoes that everyone is looking for?