Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist by Stephen Kurkjianis a riveting exploration of the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. The theft, by two men in police uniforms, has captured the attention of the FBI, the nation and the art world. The author not only takes you through the investigation and search for these pieces, but also assigns some blame to the FBI for not following up on some leads that the author feels would be valuable to follow up on.
The author argues that the FBI’s suspects do not have a motive for the theft and that there are several holes in the story for each of the three suspects the FBI has identified. Furthermore, he argues the answer lies in some aging Boston gangsters and the instability in the Boston underworld at the time.
The Gardner case is a fascinating one; a perfect storm of events that led to the greatest art theft in the world’s history. With a worth of $500 million and spanning a quarter of a century, the case is also the most valuable and second longest unsolved art theft on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. As Kurkjian, a former Boston Globe reporter notes, this is a crime that would have been unacceptable to a country in Europe, yet there is no huge public backlash in the U.S. over the theft of such cultural treasures.
Master Thieves is a book that is not just compelling for its spell-binding mystery, but the clarion call for a better understanding of and appreciation of the cultural treasure that art undoubtably is. The loss of these masterpieces is not just a theft with a huge monetary price tag; it is a theft of the very fabric of culture. There is only one Rembrandt. Only one Degas. The theft of these pieces, including the only seascape Rembrandt ever painted robs a not just a museum of inventory, but the nation and world of cultural capital. Museums serve not just as a a collection, but as a place where people can interact with the past. they are places where acts of human creativity are stored. Art is not just part of history, but is part of our story. Any missing artwork from humanity is like missing a day from your life.
The thefts in 1990 have robbed us of so much, and we deserve to have those masterpieces back on the walls instead of the haunting frames that adorn the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston Massachusetts.