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Published: 12/2/2006

Goya lost and found

THE transporting of the Toledo Museum of Art's Goya painting, Children With a Cart, to New York's Guggenheim Museum for an exhibit there, should have been a routine transfer, if indeed the movement of a painting insured at more than $1 million could be described as routine.

It was anything but.

The painting was stolen while the truck in which it was being taken to New York was parked at a motel in Pennsylvania. The FBI says the heist was a cargo theft rather than any kind of inside job. Following a tip, the painting was recovered and will be returned to Toledo after FBI tests.

So all's well that ends well for this particular work of art - and indeed the museum is already thinking about a way to celebrate its homecoming. But the incident leaves larger questions about the transportation of works of art often worth staggering sums of money.

One FBI agent asked a pertinent rhetorical question: Would the transport of a million dollars in currency - matching the insured value of the painting - have been undertaken in the same manner? The implied answer: No.

The Guggenheim made the transportation arrangements, and we would hope that upgrades in the transport of valuable works of art are already planned.

For its part, the Toledo Museum of Art is reviewing its shipping procedures and also its program of loaning works of art. "It's part of what we do," said chief operating officer Carol Bintz. Indeed, this is the first theft of one of the museum's art works in more than a century, an impressive record.

Although theft is said to be less of a risk than damage to art in transit, standards such as never leaving a shipment unattended, background checks of transportation personnel, and use of tracking technology should be the norm.

In the case of the Goya, publicity surrounding its theft would have precluded its sale for profit. But the thief, or thieves, could have panicked, thinking they should get rid of the evidence, and destroyed it. Or the painting could have been stolen at the behest of a collector who didn't care he couldn't sell it.

So while art lovers in Toledo and around the nation no doubt share the museum's delight in the painting's safe return, the theft must be a wake-up call to improve the security of transporting works of art so that paintings such as the Goya can be enjoyed by audiences anywhere.



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