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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Discount Shopping at the Met

Jean Hey, Margaret of Austria, ca. 1490I'm not devious by nature, but last Sunday afternoon I couldn't help but think about taking a painting or two home with me from the Met.

As I was wandering through the galleries, I was shocked when an unbidden thought popped into my mind: it would be way too easy to walk a painting out of the Robert Lehman Collection.

Without a guard or security camera in sight to watch over them, the paintings all hang on two thin wires dropped from the crown molding. Most are not attached to the wall, and many (like Jean Hey's Margaret of Austria, ca. 1490, at left) are small enough to fit into a bag the size of the one that I was carrying.

Fifteen seconds of solitude and two snips with a pair of wire cutters would be all it would take for someone to make a painting disappear forever. And with the long-term loan of Italian paintings from Yale on view now in the Lehman galleries, it's not just the Met's own property that is at risk.

I'm really hoping that the Met has some advanced security system in place that is so unobtrusive that I didn't spot it as I was casing the joint. But I doubt it.

Update: Just to be clear, since I've gotten a few email messages on the topic, we're not condoning art theft here--not in any way. Rather, by pointing out the issue, I'm hoping that the Met will realize that this potential vulnerability is amply clear (even to someone who doesn't usually think about these things) and will ensure that they take the necessary steps to close it.

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