Two weeks ago, a Salvador Dalí painting was brazenly stolen off the wall during business hours at the recently-opened Venus Over Manhattan gallery. The well-dressed thief asked the security guard if he could take a photo of the work, and then quickly slipped the painting into a shopping bag and walked out the door. The painting, Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio, is worth an estimated $150,000. Police were stumped, with little more to go on than a blurry security photo, when the painting turned up all on its own.
Apparently, the thief had second thoughts. Just a few days after the work went missing, the thief e-mailed the gallery with a tracking number and the message, “Cartel on its way back to you already.” Customs agents recovered the painting at JFK International Airport in perfect condition and returned it to gallerist Adam Lindemann.
Now that the painting is back, the real mystery is, what does one do with stolen art? Did the thief do it for sport? Did he get cold feet after the crime received major media attention? Perhaps he is an elaborate method actor preparing for the next big heist movie. Maybe he just has a soft-spot for surrealist masterpieces. Although if he were ever to display such a work, he would have to be very careful about who he invited to dinner.
Most stolen artworks are returned within twelve months, if they are recovered at all. Those that remain lost most likely make their way into the shadow economy, where they are traded as cash, mirroring the packaging and trading of artworks through art investment funds in the legal economy.
What do you think the thief was thinking? Share your theories in the comments.