Art theft: activism or crime?

By Sybaris Collection

Art has always been object of desire not only for art lovers, but for thiefs or kidnappers trying to make theirselfs millionaires. As artworks in museums are considered incredibly valuable objects for their cultural heritage and artistic importance, the acts of kidnapp or stole art are defined by law as crimes. But what happen when these robberies are activism or artistic performances by itselfs?

In last months two similar events took place in Paris and Oberhausen: an “artpiece” by Joseph Beuys  and a cultural and historic object were stolen from the Oberhausen Theater and the Museé du Quai Branly respectivily.

Regarding Beuys’ piece, the German art collective Frankfurter Hauptschule apparently stole Capri-Batterie from an exhibition held at the Oberhausen Teather in order to gave it to an institution in Iringa Bonga, Tanzania. After video-recording the action, artists said it was a performance to critic the colonialism imposed by Europeans when transfering objects from the African continent to included them as part of German collections as if those piece were colonial trophies.

Capri-Batteri was made by Joseph Beuys in 1984 when he was recovering from a lung illnnes in the Italian island Capri. However, the piece stolen was actually a replica from the original, according with information given by people from the Theater.

On the other hand, in June a group of five activists from Congo starred an incident in the Museé du Quai Branly  in Paris. They tried to recover a 19th century African funeral pole, arguing that the piece originally belongs to Congonian people. The activist campaign was focused on taking back art original stolen by colonizers from African cultures.

However, when the museum ‘s guards stopped them, the group of activist said it was never their intention to stole the piece, but to call attention to colonialims actions disguised as safeguard the heritage from different cultures through tcollections. For this actions, activist Congo-born Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza was recently put on trial and fined over €2,000.

What is important in both actions is the attempt to call attention on the European museum’s collections, commonly formed with cultural and artistic objetcs that was taken from original African territories when colonial times. If both Art History and museum collections in Europe are colonialist, when art theft could be considered crime and when activism?