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Premeditated art theft–German Village gallery vows to fight back with stronger security

Premeditated art theft–German Village gallery vows to fight back with stronger security  by Sarah Thompson for The Other Paper, May 10, 2012  Photos by Chris Parker

It reads like a plot from a Mary Higgins Clark mystery: Tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of art stolen from a little gallery in one of the city’s historic neighborhoods. But for Hali Robinson, managing director of German Village’s Muse Gallery, this storyline is very real.

The 12-year-old gallery had break-ins at its previous location in the Grandview Heights area, she said, but last week’s robbery at its current Whittier Street site takes the cake.

Ten pieces of art, with an estimated total value of $34,800, were stolen from the gallery’s courtyard, a space just off the sidewalk that’s guarded by an alarm-secured 6-foot iron fence. The incident happened sometime between 8 p.m. April 30 and 9 a.m. May 1, according to a police report. 

Out of the 10 pieces, eight were made of steel and one of bronze, leading Robinson to speculate that the incentive was the scrap value of the material. But with a clay fountain stolen as well, she said the intent may be to resell the pieces as artwork. She noted that art theft is one of the five most lucrative forms of robbery in the world.

Because the stolen pieces weren’t fitted with motion detectors like other, larger courtyard sculptures, Robinson said the robbery probably wasn’t an impulsive act.

“I don’t think this was just a random thing,” she said. “I think it was something that was scoped out.”

“I think they knew how the gallery and courtyard were armed and that the smaller pieces didn’t have sensors. If it was random, they would have tried to break the gate or gallery and set off their alarms. But they knew not to do that.”

Robinson said she also thinks there was more than one robber, reasoning that at least two were needed to efficiently move items over the tall fence. She also reasoned that they had to have a certain amount of strength.

“Some of the sculptures weighed about 20 to 30 pounds,” she said. “They had to be strong enough to hand things back and forth to each other or something like that.”

The gallery theft isn’t an isolated occurrence, Robinson said, pointing out that recent robberies have claimed sculptural pieces and other items from German Village backyards. But she hopes new security measures that the business has in the works will ward off future thefts, showing patrons and potential robbers that the gallery “won’t be defeated.”

“In any business, there’s always the potential of things going wrong. You’re always taking a risk. It’s something we have to deal with, but (the artists) definitely trust what we’re doing as business people to keep their artwork safe.”

The five artists whose works were stolen include Fairborn-based Bob Coates, who created the fountain. Coates said he trusts Muse to handle his future works, especially after the security upgrade.

“I don’t blame Muse Gallery. They’ve done quite right for me,” he said. “We’re like family there, so what hurts me hurts them, and vice versa.”

“It just sucks, you know? It’s almost like the time we live in—people are going nuts.”

Robinson agreed.

“People are willing to go to crazy levels now to do anything, and any good artist understands there’s a potential (for theft). But you can live life how you want or dwell on what’s happened. You have to pick it up and move forward.”

Dayton-based artist Mike Elsass—who lost three of his pieces in the heist and subsequently donated 10 more pieces to fill up the now-empty courtyard—echoed Robinson’s sentiments.

“You feel violated and all that, but I’m not succumbing to fear of anything. That’s the expression of art, the freedom: not being hemmed in by rules and not having to look over your shoulder at the economy or criticism or theft or anything else.”

“I’m not going to let theft bother me or scare me off. I’m not going to let any controversy or dilemma dampen the spirit of art. Art will persevere.”
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