The Norwegian police, under Iver Stensrud, head of the police investigation, reported the recovery of two Edvard Munch paintings Thursday. The Scream and Madonna were stolen two years ago from a museum in Oslo. Blogcritics' Shark reported on the crime in "Munch's 'The Scream' Stolen From Museum." At the time, two thieves dressed in black walked into the relatively unsecured museum, threatened guards with guns, and pulled the paintings from the wall. They walked out to their car and left. There is even a photo of them leaving with the canvases.
Mr. Stensrud reported, "The pictures came into our hands this afternoon after a successful police action. All that remains is an expert examination to confirm with 100% certainty, that these are the original paintings. We believe these are the originals."
Edvard Munch turned the existential cry of pain for all the ills and tragedies of the world into a masterpiece of painting. It has both the abstracted feeling of the cry in its color, the figure heavy with emotional baggage, and the frame centered in a way so modern and so direct, as well as the literal reality of the cry that wells up from the pit of our collective stomachs as we recognize the world and its madnesses for what it is. It is a masterpiece in that it stands alone, bravely facing the viewers.
Madonna by Edvard Munch, the other stolen work.
If our world were civilized — and this is yet another proof that it is far from it — the masterpieces of painting, sculpture from all ages, photography, music, and writing would be sacrosanct. They would be known as the glue that maintains the fabric of civilization. They would be understood to be the best that man has to offer for his thousands of years of trying to control the earth. We have not controlled it nor has it controlled our nonsensical attacks on that (art) which is closest to the creator — if, indeed, there is one.
The paintings were part of Munch's Frieze of Life series, focusing on sickness, death, anxiety, and love. Munch died in 1944 at the age of 80. In The Scream, the subject cries and he is us.
In 2004, the BBC archives reports, "Two masked men enter through the museum cafe. One man holds staff and visitors at gunpoint. The other man goes to the gallery and tears the Scream and Madonna from the walls. The two men make their escape, fleeing in a black Audi."
Norwegian Culture Minister, Valgerd Svarstad Haugland, suggested, with some under-statement, "We have not protected our cultural treasures adequately. We must learn the lessons." A French radio producer, Francois Castang, who was in the museum at the time and witnessed the assault, said in an interview with French radio – later reported by the AP — security was not very tight.
What's strange is that, in this museum, there weren't any means of protection for the paintings and no alarm bell. The paintings were simply attached by wire to the walls. All you had to do is pull on the painting hard for the cord to break loose, which is what I saw one of the thieves doing.
In the discussions following the 2004 heist, the FBI reported art theft is a "small but ugly criminal specialty" that is, surprisingly or not, the third largest criminal endeavor in the world. They estimate $8 Billion (with a capital "B") worth of art works are stolen worldwide each year. Ton Cremers, founder of the Museum Security Network, says the theft of art works around the world remains a constant threat. Museums are the victims about 15 percent of the time.
What was not mentioned is the threat that art, the symbol of civilization and freedom of thought, action, and expression, could become yet another target for the barbarian hordes of the Muslim world. If they strike at two gaudy office buildings and thousands of people merely because they thought the towers were symbols of financial power and American freedom, what will they do to the legacy of Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, or Edward Degas?
Art is not equal to human life, but it symbolizes the best aspect of life, love, beauty, and knowledge. The barbarians hate a world that encompasses the freedom to create and the love of beauty. So far, we have been lucky they are violent and increasingly sly, but not yet aware of the cultural world (to discount the Chechnyan attack on a theater audience).
They strike at buildings and planes, enjoy the act of mass murder, and brazenly build nuclear weapons under the world's collective nose, but they are not yet interested in beautiful things and intellectual symbols. That is still the province of the crook — who is easier to understand and obviously easier to apprehend.
Museums should maintain their security against crooks. The Munch Museum probably now has alarms when paintings are pulled from walls and perhaps doors that close to trap bold thieves. Certainly, museums should begin planning for the religious zealots (of many religions) who now threaten the foundations of civilization.