Art theft unveiled | Bleader

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  • Mark Heard
On Wednesday night the Chicago Artists’ Coalition hosts Appropriating Art: An Evening of Art Theft Unveiled, which features a discussion with former FBI agent and art-theft investigator Robert Spiel, who earlier in the decade was profiled in the Reader by Jeff Huebner. Spiel cracked what was then the biggest art theft in U.S. history, the 1978 disappearance of three Cezanne paintings from the Art Institute—the culprit turned out to be a museum shipping clerk. After entering the private sector, Spiel wrote a book called Art Theft and Forgery Investigation: The Complete Field Manual, which he advertised as "the first and only police manual on art crime." Huebner detailed Spiel’s quarries:

Thieves "run the gamut" from uneducated burglars to college professors, from violent thugs to cunning alarm-bypass specialists. And unlike bank robbers, most art thieves get away clean, with artwork that can fetch untold amounts at auction. Wealthy collectors, driven to own works for personal reasons and certain they can keep their acquisitions secret, will pay top dollar for hot paintings, and dealers (crooked or otherwise) will fork over cash for something valuable enough. "Gallery art is easier to sell because it's not as well-known as museum art," Spiel says. "It's the old 'grandmother's attic' story."

The discussion will be followed by a screening of the Don Argott documentary The Art of the Steal. Wed 11/16, 6:30 PM, 217 N. Carpenter, $15. Tickets are required; get them here.

Related: this compelling Chicago magazine story about Michael Zabrin, a fake-art peddler who became an FBI informant.

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