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Missing Masterpieces: The World’s Most Wanted Art Exhibition

Our usual strategy for writing an article is to endlessly trawl the internet until we stumble upon something of interest. Then it’s onto fact checking, interviewing those involved etc. What’s nice about this piece of art news, like our previous Lushsux documentary article, is that it fell into our lap (well our email to be precise).

The email announced that on Thursday 12th November, Samsung launched their ‘Missing Masterpieces’ exhibition. A virtual collection of 12 of the world’s most iconic and intriguing lost artworks by artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne, and Monet.

‘View over Auvers-sur-Oise’ by Paul Cezanne was stolen on New Year’s Eve 1999 and was last seen in the UK

In the press release supplied by Samsung, it explained, “As our lives have become more virtual, the power that technology has to bring people together has never been clearer. The Missing Masterpieces exhibition features some of the most striking lost paintings produced by world-renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Cézanne and Monet; and allows everyone to experience and learn more about these beautiful pieces of art, some of which may never be found.”

Samsung hopes that through its Missing Masterpieces exhibition some of the iconic paintings might be recovered

It then goes on to say, “Across Europe, the pandemic has had a significant impact on art and culture. Millions of euros’ worth of art is stolen every year, but during lockdown alone, at least six pieces were stolen including Van Gogh’s “Spring Garden”, which was taken on what would have been the artist’s 167th birthday.

Join the hunt for the missing masterpieces

As we read the press release, and this is what intrigued us the most, we realised that this wasn’t any ordinary digital exhibition (of which, due to lockdown, there have been many). What Samsung are hoping, is that with the help of social media, mystery lovers, Sherlock Holmes wannabees and the hashtag #MissingMasterpieces, people from all over the world might be able to assist with the recovery of these wonderful paintings through sharing tips, clues and theories on their whereabouts.

The Missing Masterpieces exhibition has been curated in partnership with Dr Noah Charney, esteemed art crime expert and founder of The Association for Research into Crimes Against Art (ARCA).

Dr Noah Charney, Founder of ARCA, said, “Before you get to work on a puzzle, you want to gather all the pieces, right? It’s the same with a crime or a mysterious loss. From contradictory media reports to speculation in Reddit feeds – the clues are out there, but the volume of information can be overwhelming. This is where technology and social media can help by bringing people together to assist the search. It’s not unheard of for an innocuous tip posted online to be the key that unlocks a case.”

5 top tips for budding sleuths

To assist budding sleuths, here’s Dr Noah Charney’s 5 top tips for helping to track down any of the Missing Masterpieces:

1. Map Out the Evidence

Start by laying out all the pieces of the puzzle you can find. I call it “Charting an Art Crime.” Write down all the details you can gather about the who, what, where, when, and how (sometimes, also the why). The more you can fill out, the better your understanding of the mystery will be, and it is easier to spot gaps or patterns.

2. Gather Leads Never Followed

Police will follow some leads that they deem of merit, but others will not make the cut. This is sometimes because they seem not to be fruitful, or sometimes they are set aside due to limited time and resources. If you can pull together a list of leads and separate those that were never followed up, then you have the basis for your own investigation.

3. Draw up a Timeline

Gather a list of all purported sightings of the piece in question, no matter how long ago. It could be a pattern emerges. Most of these leads will go nowhere, but eventually you will reach a last known location and a potential date. Any indication that the artwork still exists, that it was not destroyed, is also promising.

‘Chloe & Emma’ by Barbara Kyslikova was last seen in Norway

For example, there are scores of tips sent in every year to Ghent police regarding the location of the stolen Just Judges panel from the Ghent altarpiece, and many are followed up, but none have proven correct to date. Still, each one has the potential to be THE one, and making a timeline of sightings, leads and tips is a good way to track the phantom artwork.

4. Consider local and international trends

For cases that cross boarders, law enforcement agencies do not necessarily have the local knowledge they need to crack a case. This is where amateur sleuths can help. Keep an eye on the news for local trends that might influence a criminal’s thinking when reviewing case information.

For example, in 2004 a two-ton Henry Moore bronze sculpture was taken from the artist’s estate in Hertfordshire, England. Such a colossal, unwieldy artwork would be impossible to hide, transport and sell. At the time there was a trend across Europe for stealing anything made of bronze or copper, which sadly could indicate the fate of this beautiful piece.

5. Never Give Up

Lost art, against all odds, can be found again. Often in the most unexpected of places. Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes was found in a Toulouse attic, and a trove of art by the likes of Alexander Calder and Willem de Kooning were found in an old storeroom of a hospital in New York just this summer. Even works that were thought to have been destroyed, intentionally, through accident or natural disaster, have resurfaced. So, stay positive, share your findings with others and may the search continue!

Art should be for everyone!

We love how Samsung have used their technology to launch this virtual gallery of lost paintings. We firmly believe that art should be for everyone to enjoy and with the virtual world bringing us ever closer together, maybe, just maybe, some of these iconic paintings will resurface.

The Missing Masterpiece exhibition at Samsung.com runs from 12th November 2020 through to 10th February 2021.

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