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The Black Market For Stolen Art

Monday, May 13, 2019



The art loss register was set up in the 1990s in order to make the tracking and filtering of artworks easier. When it was first set up the register was intended to be a database of artworks: paintings, sculptures, photographs… that kind of thing. Recently, however, it’s opened up a division dealing in watches. Any stolen art that has been reported goes onto the register, and this serves two purposes; to deter criminals, and to protect consumers.

As long as we have placed value on works of art there have been those who seek to steal it, just like any other valuable object, and sell it along for huge profit. As painters became more and more famous, their works gaining value, this kind of crime became more sophisticated. The result has been a huge black market for rare and valuable paintings, sculptures and photographs which, until the 1990s, was very hard to keep in check. These days, however, the black market is getting smaller and harder to operate. Thanks to the art loss registry and the ability of the average buyer to involve an art recovery group it is getting more difficult for criminals to get away with this kind of theft. Nonetheless, the potential value of stolen paintings means that they will continue to try. There are plenty of security companies which offer solutions to protect your art, but it can be hard to safeguard yourself against buying stolen art. Nevertheless, the increasingly close ties between auction houses and the art loss register have increased the level of due diligence shown by all of the large houses and most of the smaller ones. This has also led to an increase in transparency about the condition and origins of paintings, which can only be a good thing for both buyers and the auction houses themselves.

The role of an art recovery group is something that is, understandably, not always known to most people. They do a lot of business, however, and this is only increasing with the popularity of “passion investing”, this being the investment of wealth into artworks. In a sense, they have three main roles, though they can fill many other roles including simply giving advice. The first of their roles is, arguably, researching stolen or missing art. This can mean providing information to auction houses or shops about works already on the register, or even doing independent research regarding works that are suspected to be stolen, but which are not yet registered. Secondly, they can help you to register works that are stolen from you. Thirdly, a recovery company can help you to start and continue the process of reclamation whether you’re the claimant or the new ‘owner’ of the stolen piece. They can even provide experienced mediators, expert in conflict diffusion, in order to facilitate the process in a calm and collected manner. You will still need a defense law firm, though, for criminal proceedings.

If you’re thinking of buying a piece at auction it is key that you check the stolen artwork database as well as looking at the details of the item’s condition which are given to you on the website. If there are few, or no, details about its condition and origin be sure to contact the sellers directly.

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