In 2007, The North Carolina Museum of Art began clearing a large swath of land between its main building, built in 1983 and Blue Ridge Road. First came the backhoes, then the excavators. Gradually, large holes opened up in the red clay landscape and began to take form. It was apparent that the new gallery would be large and also that there would be a tunnel connecting the two buildings. This began to pull at an idea I had to feature an art forgery con in a new novel.
I followed the construction closely, and took opportunities to view the work up close whenever possible. The original building has its own network of underground rooms where staff carry on the day-to-day museum operations. Upstairs, Renaissance paintings and Greek statues were being padded, wrapped and crated for the move. Months later, they travelled the tunnel and sat in the new gallery acclimatizing to the fresh surroundings before being installed.
Watching the work disappear from the walls inside the main building as the ‘skin’ was applied to the exterior of the new gallery lended rich visual inspiration for the setting of Anatomy of a Lie. While researching art forgery and theft for the novel, I was drawn into a world of shady art dealers, organized crime and undercover stings. The best part: the stories were true.
The FBI contends that art theft is a $6 billion a year industry while other authorities feel the figure is even higher. In the 1960’s, organized crime discovered art theft and fraud could fund their activities. As the value of fine art increased, unscrupulous art dealers took advantage of clients, even stealing the pieces back after the sale and working the con over and over. Last year, brazen thieves smashed the door of a New Jersey antique store, lobbed in smoke bombs to obscure the security cameras and were gone with an estimated $100,000 worth of art and antique silver within minutes. The police arrived within 3 minutes of the alarm trigger, but the perpetrators were already gone.
The importance of art to our culture is evident by the international outrage at the looting of the Cairo Museum in Egypt. Like great literature, art holds a mirror to our society and tells our story. When a bronze statue is stolen from a museum garden and sold as scrap metal or a Chagall is smuggled across borders, we lose a chapter in our personal history. The genius of the artist is lost.
The variations on art crimes are nearly endless, and for me, became a fascinating world to explore with my characters. Interpol, the FBI, and a handful of other international agencies are all that stand to protect these treasures and recover what has been stolen.
In Anatomy of a Lie, Robyn is unraveling the deception through luck and stubbornness. Jade, in Wired, is a thief with a sense of entitlement and is torn between helping the FBI or helping herself.