Help! My Goldie’s missing!

New book lays bare the often shocking, sometimes confusing and always intriguing world of art crime.

New book lays bare the often shocking, sometimes confusing and always intriguing world of art crime.

STOP THIEF: Author Penelope Jackson. Picture supplied
Penelope Jackson's new book.

A $2m mural goes missing in the middle of the night from a quiet visitors’ centre nestled in a national park.

The break-in, which damages a floor-to-ceiling window, triggers alarms and the park ranger arrives at the centre to find the artwork stolen and the thieves nowhere to be seen.

This is the often shocking, sometimes confusing and always intriguing world of art crime.

But does it exist in New Zealand?

Penelope Jackson, art historian and former director of Tauranga Art Gallery, says yes, and more often than you might think.

“A lot of people have been asking me over the last few weeks, ‘just how common is art crime in New Zealand’?” says the author.

“It’s a really difficult thing to measure in New Zealand. Most of what we hear is from the media. People might not report because they fear copycat crime and historically it’s often been embarrassing.”

Nevertheless, Jackson can list at least five instances of criminal art activity occurring in the country over the last two months, including vandalism of the Captain Cook statue in Gisborne.

Jackson is doing her part to shed light on this (under)world with her just-released book, Art Thieves, Fakers And Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story.

Cast of colourful characters

Like most art crime narratives, the text features a cast of colourful characters, jaw-dropping tales and intriguing mysteries.

But unlike the tales you might see on the big screen, these are true stories that happened in New Zealand to New Zealanders — for the most part.

“There are a couple I talk about in the book from Dunedin who had their Goldie painting stolen during an open home. Their insurance (company) wouldn’t cover the loss as they said the couple had invited the people into their home.

“It had been in their family for a very long time. It’s those kind of stories that pull at the heartstrings.”

Jackson acknowledges that some may challenge the relevance of art crime awareness to the average New Zealander, who might possess one or two art pieces at most.

But she says art crime can affect everybody.

“There’s a sculpture in Napier — Pania Of The Reef — and in 2005 when she was removed from her place on Napier’s waterfront, people laid wreaths around the site.

“Just recently in Gisborne you have had the Captain Cook statue vandalised. There may be political issues around it but it’s still a piece of public art, for the whole community.”

Local connection

In fact, the story referenced at the start of this article that Jackson refers to, occurred just down the road at the Aniwaniwa centre in Te Urewera National Park.

With a number of stories still unsolved, Jackson hopes her new book will bring people and clues forward.

“I hope from this book that some of the missing works will be found. Someone, somewhere must know something,” she says.

She also hopes to reduce the amount of art crime taking place.

“I think we need a greater awareness around buying art. People need to be more vigilant,” she says.

“I always tell people – a lot of people buy art because they fall in love with it – we need to ask more questions at the start.”

For now it seems that the tale of New Zealand’s art crime underbelly is an ongoing one.

“Now that the book is just starting to reach people, other people are coming forward – It really just reflects that yes, we do have an art crime scene in New Zealand.”

Art Thieves, Fakers And Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story is in stores on October 14.

A $2m mural goes missing in the middle of the night from a quiet visitors’ centre nestled in a national park.

The break-in, which damages a floor-to-ceiling window, triggers alarms and the park ranger arrives at the centre to find the artwork stolen and the thieves nowhere to be seen.

This is the often shocking, sometimes confusing and always intriguing world of art crime.

But does it exist in New Zealand?

Penelope Jackson, art historian and former director of Tauranga Art Gallery, says yes, and more often than you might think.

“A lot of people have been asking me over the last few weeks, ‘just how common is art crime in New Zealand’?” says the author.

“It’s a really difficult thing to measure in New Zealand. Most of what we hear is from the media. People might not report because they fear copycat crime and historically it’s often been embarrassing.”

Nevertheless, Jackson can list at least five instances of criminal art activity occurring in the country over the last two months, including vandalism of the Captain Cook statue in Gisborne.

Jackson is doing her part to shed light on this (under)world with her just-released book, Art Thieves, Fakers And Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story.

Cast of colourful characters

Like most art crime narratives, the text features a cast of colourful characters, jaw-dropping tales and intriguing mysteries.

But unlike the tales you might see on the big screen, these are true stories that happened in New Zealand to New Zealanders — for the most part.

“There are a couple I talk about in the book from Dunedin who had their Goldie painting stolen during an open home. Their insurance (company) wouldn’t cover the loss as they said the couple had invited the people into their home.

“It had been in their family for a very long time. It’s those kind of stories that pull at the heartstrings.”

Jackson acknowledges that some may challenge the relevance of art crime awareness to the average New Zealander, who might possess one or two art pieces at most.

But she says art crime can affect everybody.

“There’s a sculpture in Napier — Pania Of The Reef — and in 2005 when she was removed from her place on Napier’s waterfront, people laid wreaths around the site.

“Just recently in Gisborne you have had the Captain Cook statue vandalised. There may be political issues around it but it’s still a piece of public art, for the whole community.”

Local connection

In fact, the story referenced at the start of this article that Jackson refers to, occurred just down the road at the Aniwaniwa centre in Te Urewera National Park.

With a number of stories still unsolved, Jackson hopes her new book will bring people and clues forward.

“I hope from this book that some of the missing works will be found. Someone, somewhere must know something,” she says.

She also hopes to reduce the amount of art crime taking place.

“I think we need a greater awareness around buying art. People need to be more vigilant,” she says.

“I always tell people – a lot of people buy art because they fall in love with it – we need to ask more questions at the start.”

For now it seems that the tale of New Zealand’s art crime underbelly is an ongoing one.

“Now that the book is just starting to reach people, other people are coming forward – It really just reflects that yes, we do have an art crime scene in New Zealand.”

Art Thieves, Fakers And Fraudsters: The New Zealand Story is in stores on October 14.

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