Home > art, history, music > Worth a read: the most (in)famous art heist in history

Worth a read: the most (in)famous art heist in history

I know I have a tendency to totally abuse reposting Slate articles. It’s not like it’s an underground or less-known publication but I’ll be damned if they don’t still post some epically badass content. This one is an article that it looks like was reprinted from the Financial Times on the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre 100 years ago. I had a passing familiarity with the heist but had no idea of twists and turns the investigation took–many of which are covered here in the article.

Among the interesting tidbits: this was the first high-profile investigation to make use of fingerprinting and it failed to produce the culprit because the detective in charge fouled up and only fingerprinted people’s right hands. The sole fingerprint left was from a finger on the left hand.

Even more interesting (at least to me) is that at one point Pablo Picasso has considered a suspect. Apparently Picasso did indeed bankroll a previous theft from the museum in which a pair of ancient Iberian statues were taken. These statues wound up being used as models for the odd tribal masks worn by two of the women in his landmark painting “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” This has got me thinking: this is one of the greatest works of art of the past 150 years and has influenced countless painters since, yet it’s built on a transparent act of theft. I can’t help correlating this to music because that’s where my mind inevitably goes for its analogies. I’ve lately been rocking out to Girl Talk’s latest album, “All Day,” and though GT didn’t create a single bar of the music on this album, the fascinating contrasts he draws together make for some very inspiring hooks. In particular, near the end of “Let It Out” there’s a sample of Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” contrasted against Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” that I’ll be damned if it’s not a million times cooler than either of those tracks individually.

A lot has been written about sampling and to what degree it constitutes theft of an original piece of art. I’ve long harbored a grudge against sampling, believing it doesn’t constitute “real” art, but a lazy attempt to appropriate a proven hook to easily make a new hit song, but I have to admit that many of Girl Talk’s mashups are artistically inspiring in their own right.

A quote frequently attributed to Picasso, though often also attributed to T.S. Eliot (and was actually spoken by neither) goes to the effect of “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Maybe it’s time I stopped hating on samplers and learned to appreciate the art.

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