The Most Controversial and Ambitious Art Heists of 2020

This year, museums that sat empty due to the coronavirus were extremely vulnerable to thefts, and robberies indeed frequently took place.

Singer Laren Museum’s Evert van Os speaks to the press outside the museum on March 30, 2020. ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

During this very strange year, all around the world, museums were forced to shut down in order to preserve their contents and to prevent eager visitors from contracting the coronavirus. While these moves were supplemented for fans of the arts by online programming you could access from your home, it’s undeniable that museums were left extremely vulnerable this year, and art thieves took advantage of this new reality. Without the bustling crowds and acutely focused security attention, museums and galleries around the world were undeniably plundered in 2020 in spectacular fashion. Below, we’ve highlighted the most fascinating criminal splurges for your perusal. Stay safe, and lock up your valuables.

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One of the stolen Phase 2 paintings. New York City Police Department

Smash-and-Grab East Village Phase 2 Robbery

Even before the coronavirus managed to disrupt everyone’s life forever, petty art thefts taking place in New York City still managed to be pretty entertaining. In the early morning hours of January 15th, a burglar lobbed a brick through the front window of an Alphabet City fitness studio called A2Z and snagged three expensive paintings, reportedly worth $18,000, that were on display inside. The paintings were made by the graffiti artist Michael Lawrence Marrow, otherwise known as Phase 2, and the flamboyant nature of their theft harkened back to a more rough-and-tumble era for the nation’s greatest metropolis.

“Two Laughing Boys Sharing a Mug of Beer” (1626) by Frans Hals. Jan van den Berg / YouTube

Frans Hals’ Painting of Gluttonous Youths Stolen for the Third Time 

Certain paintings, like the Mona Lisa, for whatever reason turned out to be tractor beams that have attracted covetous attention for as long as they’ve existed. Another one of these paintings is Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beerwhich was made in 1626 by Frans Hals and which has since been stolen a total of three times:  once in 1988, once in 2011 and in August of 2020. This year, the canvas was snatched from the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam during the wee hours of the morning and has yet to turn up. Here’s hoping the laughing boys are at least still laughing.

Singer Laren Museum’s Evert van Os speaks to the press outside the museum on March 30, 2020. ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Vincent van Gogh Painting Stolen from a Shuttered Dutch Museum

Before the theft of the Frans Hals painting took place, another Dutch museum nearby was robbed of Spring Garden by Vincent van Gogh; constituting an extraordinarily embarrassing loss. The van Gogh didn’t even belong to the Singer Laren Museum from which it was stolen, the painting was on loan from the Groninger Museum in Groningen. Similarly to the Hals theft, early in the morning, the thief managed to get into the closed institution by forcing open the glass front door.

A uniform of the Schutzstaffel (SS) in the Deutsches Museum in Sonderburg. Gregor Fischer/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Nazi Memorabilia Keeps Vanishing in a Disturbing Trend

It’s no surprise to anyone that 2020 has been rife with far-right and neo-fascist sentiments, but that doesn’t make it any less troubling that this year especially, Nazi paraphernalia has been disappearing from museums en masse. In October, spokespeople for several separate Dutch museums announced that over the previous few months, World War Two museums in the area have been plundered by thieves who’ve stolen copious Nazi items: helmets, weapons, parachutes, uniforms and other miscellaneous items which are cumulatively worth approximately $1.77 million. Who would want so much of this stuff, and would also have the resources to acquire it? That’s the really chilling question.

Two examples of comics illustrated by John Buscema. ComicTropes / YouTube

45 Drawings by Marvel Comic Artist John Buscema Stolen

This one was a real heartbreaker: in November, Buscema’s daughter posted on Facebook, imploring everyone she knew to look out for her father’s illustrations on the black market. 45 pieces of his original artwork were stolen from the family in one raid, and Buscema, who died in 2002 and who played a huge role in the development of the Marvel aesthetic through the ’60s and ’70s, isn’t even around to aid in the search. 2020 truly was a bummer of a year that deserves to be left in the dust where it belongs.

The Most Controversial and Ambitious Art Heists of 2020