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Europe Remains World Art & Cultural Theft Hotspot

Europe Remains World Art & Cultural Theft Hotspot

With many culturally significant items fetching hefty sums at auctions, it’s no surprise that cultural property theft is a booming business.

As Statista’s Florian Zandt reports, according to the current edition of the annual Interpol report Assessing Crimes Against Cultural Property released in October 2022, around 23,000 pieces were reported stolen across 74 surveyed countries in 2021.

As Zandt’s chart shows below, most thefts were recorded in Europe, home to famous art and history museums like the British Museum, Tate Modern or the Musée du Louvre.

About 18,000 missing pieces, or 78 percent of the total number of recorded thefts, were reported by Interpol National Central Bureaus in European countries.

You will find more infographics at Statista

Next is the Asia & South Pacific region, where 40 percent of stolen items were library materials. In contrast, 53 percent of stolen goods in Europe and 95 percent in Africa were categorized as numismatic items.

While many think of paintings and sculptures when it comes to cultural theft, coin collections are also lucrative targets for criminals.

For example, a single 1787 Brasher Doubloon was auctioned off for almost $10 million U.S. dollars as recently as 2021.

Although art theft remains a global issue, the conversation around who can hold custody over which items has shifted in recent years.

As part of the growing interest in post-colonial studies, many have criticized museums for hoarding cultural objects acquired from former colonies, often by dubious channels connected to the crimes of colonialism. Many famous institutions have now changed course, with one notable and prominent exception: the British Museum, which deems returning objects to their homelands illegal by the British Museum Act of 1963.

A recent bone of contention are the Parthenon Marbles, originally from Greece. In a 2021 YouGov poll, 59 percent of respondents said the objects belong in Greece, not Great Britain.

Another, even more attention-grabbing example is the case of the Benin Bronzes, thousands of sculptures from a long-gone kingdom spread across a multitude of museums located everywhere but in Africa.

Since 2021, selected museums in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have started returning parts of or complete Benin Bronze collections to Nigeria, where the kingdom of Benin was located before being annexed by the United Kingdom in 1897. These sculptures, however, are now in the private collection of the Royal Family of Benin instead of being placed in a museum or similar institution, prompting critics to describe these particular restitution efforts as a failure.

Tyler Durden
Mon, 08/21/2023 – 02:45

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