A graphic showcasing the speaker of the lectures and a few pieces of artwork that will be discussed

Brian Williams, who will be giving the “Art Crimes” lecture, has taken many graduate-level courses on the subject of art crimes. Credit: Courtesy of the McConnell Arts Center

In 2010, a burglar entered the Paris Museum of Modern Art and left with five paintings in the middle of the night without tripping a single alarm, and although he was caught, the paintings remain unfound. 

The mystery behind the missing paintings was the subject of the first of three online lectures given by artist and Columbus College of Art and Design art instructor Brian Williams. The lecture series “Art Crimes” started Wednesday and will focus on three different kinds of art crime: art theft — Wednesday’s topic —  art forgery and art smuggling. The series is presented by the McConnell Arts Center of Worthington and the two remaining lectures will take place Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. 

Williams said he hopes this lecture series will bring up questions about the true worth of art.

“Why is art valuable? Is art valuable because there’s a monetary amount attached to it, or is it valuable because it provides some kind of benefit for a community?” Williams said.

The series’ second lecture topic — art forgery —  follows a more historical story of art crimes, Williams said. In 1930s and ’40s Europe, a man created and sold fake paintings of famous Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer. Williams said the man was mostly able to get away with it by having a few experts sign off on his work being real despite it not resembling Vermeer’s art particularly well.

In the end, the forger was only caught because he sold a fake painting to a Nazi officer, and, at the time, selling any piece of Dutch heritage was considered a treasonous crime. Preferring to be arrested for forgery instead of treason, the man confessed, Williams said.

The third and final lecture covers art smuggling and goes even further back in time. Williams said he will be focusing on the removal of statues from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, in the 1800s. He said the statues were sold to the British Museum, and to this day, there is still fervent debate between the Greek and British governments on whether the statues will be returned to the Parthenon.

Erin Blue, executive director of the McConnell Arts Center, said the lecture series will be engaging and offer something different with its focus on storytelling about art. She said the lectures will each last for a bit less than an hour, with a Q&A session at the end.

“The storytelling of something that happened to art, as opposed to what happens to us when we see art, is kind of a nice, a different lens to talk about art and to think about art as having a life of its own, and what is the story that this piece tells us when we’re looking at it?” Blue said.

The Art Crimes lecture series is the first part of a larger series of online lectures — called MAC Connects — being put on by the McConnell Arts Center, Blue said. She said the plan is to have programming to put on even if more shutdowns are brought on by the pandemic.

The lectures are exciting because they offer information on such a wide variety of interesting topics, Willliams said.

“You are learning a little bit about art history, you’re learning a little bit about criminology, you’re learning a little bit about world history and politics, colonialism. Discussions about ancient civilizations and non-western civilizations are brought into the mix,” Williams said.

The two remaining “Art Crimes” lectures will take place Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. online. Tickets can be purchased through the McConnell Arts Center website and cost $15 per adult, $25 per household and $10 per student with a valid school ID, according to the website.