Enough to Make You Scream:
Losses to Mankind's Uninsured Cultural Heritage Diminish in Europe, Increase in Iraq
In news that should please painting-fanciers everywhere, the Norwegian police report that they have recovered the versions of Edvard Munch's The Scream and Madonna that were stolen from the Munch Museum two years ago. When the original theft took place, I had not yet launched the "Art and Risk" category on my law-and-insurance-oriented weblog, so I wrote about it here. (Munch's portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche put in an appearance here recently in connection with this post.)
The paintings, you may recall, were not insured. Given the violence involved in the theft -- the frames were recovered promptly, in the getaway car, but the paintings themselves had been forcibly removed -- there had been ongoing worry that the works might be irretrievably damaged, even if they were ultimately found. The head of the investigation, Iver Stensrud, has not described the paintings' condition in detail, but declares that he has seen them himself "and there was far from the damage that could have been feared." The AP report adds:
During the hunt for the paintings, Norwegian news media reported that they might have been burned to get rid of evidence.
Stensrud said it was not possible for the news media, or the public, to see the paintings yet. He also refused to discuss the methods or details of the search that led to the stolen artworks.
Elsewhere on the planet, the loss of artistic and cultural artifacts continues unabated in Iraq, where the ongoing hostilities and lack of order have resulted in the permanent destruction of many ancient sites. Compounding the likely breadth of these losses, Tyler Green reports on his Modern Art Notes weblog that Donny George, head of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities and Heritage and principal protector of the infamously-ransacked Baghdad Museum, has sealed the Museum's doors with concrete, resigned his post and fled the country, apparently under threat from Shiite elements of the new Iraqi government that have been pressuring for a heightened emphasis on Islamic artifacts at the expense of more ancient Babylonian and Sumerian sites and materials. (George himself is a member of Iraq's ultraminority Christian community, and seems to have had a broad ecumenical approach to his nation's honorable artistic history.)
Green adds this note on the unfortunate confluence of humankind's creative and destructive impulses:
[T]he manner in which the United States has allowed the cultural history of a region to be decimated and looted is a special horror. When the US went to war in Iraq, the plan was for first-wave invading troops to quickly guard cultural sites. Those troops were supposed to enter Iraq from Turkey. When the Turkish government refused to allow U.S. forces to enter Iraq from the north, the Pentagon never established a backup plan.
In a Shelleyan mode: "Look what the mighty have done to these works, and despair."