The looting of art and other cultural property is about as old as warfare itself. For centuries, one people’s treasures have become another’s spoils of war.
The Antiquities Coalition (@combatlooting) refers to looting as “cultural racketeering,” and their work spans the globe. Their site is worth a visit, as they employ stunning visual storytelling methods to show the path of antiquities that travel from places like Iraq and Lebanon to museums in the West.
Of course, the looting of art collections during World War II by the Nazis is a horrific legacy that is still being confronted by museums and private collectors in their work and through the courts.
There are numerous tales of art being looted and sold to innocent and not-so-innocent buyers, including in the United States. (One excellent book that details such a story is Chasing Aphrodite by Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino.) It’s an important topic not just for museums but for private collectors, as items stolen from conflict-ravaged and exploited nations are moved illicitly throughout the world at a staggering pace. It’s estimated that the trafficking of such goods numbers in the billions of dollars annually.
Where the looting takes place is usually a foreign matter to those in the U.S. and the U.K. Sites from Syria to South America and beyond have been plundered. But this week, with peaceful protests being usurped in the media by outbreaks of violence, art was looted in America during a riot that took place on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
Looters were videotaped accessing a broken window at the 5Art Gallery and making off with an untold number of works by Kaws, aka the New York graffiti artist Brian Donnelly.
According to Margaret Carrigan at The Art Newspaper, what was left behind on the gallery wall was a graffitied message that read “fuck white art.”
5Art Gallery has posted a message on Instagram that included a plea to the public to forward any video of the incident that they might have. Much of it was captured on film by The K Word (@MoveKword) on Twitter and has spread rapidly on the social media site.
(Video by @MoveKword)