• United States



by Paul Kerstein

Museum Security Gets More Like Airports

Aug 22, 20053 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Art may be in the eye of the beholder, but if you can’t behold a workof art to begin with, what is the use of eyes? That’s the questionart curators and security experts have been grappling with at the MunchMuseum in Oslo, Norway, for much of the past year.

And the answer right now is: no good at all. On August 22, 2004, armedthieves barged into the museum, grabbed two Edvard Munch masterpieces –”The Scream,” an icon of emotional angst, and “The Madonna” – andsprinted to a waiting getaway car.  The heist closed the museumfor ten months. And although authorities have arrested several suspectsin the case, the paintings are still missing.

Reopened in June with new security measures, the Munch Museumnow places every painting behind a wall of glass. And in what artcritics say is an airport-like show of security, patrons who enter thebuilding must pass through X-ray machines and metal detectors. (To seesome of these features, go to the Norwegian news publication called Aftenposten.)

Apparently, the need to protect art from thieves easily trumps theconvenience of patrons. To a degree, of course, this has always beenthe case. Museums have long employed security guards who patrolgalleries, warning off people who get too close to a painting orsculpture. “The Mona Lisa” which was stolen in 1911 and recovered twoyears later, has been behind glass for years. (Go to The Louvre in Paris and click on the image of Da Vinci’s painting to see its location in Room 13.) Masterpieces like the Mona Lisa are not the only museum pieces keptbehind glass: fragile or extremely valuable objects have been glassedoff for decades. These days, most people who want to put their hands onexhibits understand that they will find true happiness only at theircity’s children’s museum.

Art critics who’ve dubbed the Oslo musuem “Fortress Munch” arelamenting a marked shift in the definition of “too close.” But in thisage of acute threats and risks, the experts who guided the MunchMuseum’s decision-makers in a $6 million security overhaul aredistinctlyunapologetic. “This is the price we have to pay,” themuseum’s director, Gunnar Sorensen, told The New York Times when themuseum reopened.

After the thefts last year, Sorensen told the newspaper, “I wascriticized because the museum was not strong and safe enough. We’ve nowdone everything we were advised to do, and you see the result of that.”

The results are open to question, and not just from art lovers. Sciencewriter Edward Dolnick, who wrote a book about the theft of anotherversion of the “Scream,” says in this articlethat the security measures are like subway rider searches in New Yorkand airport security: they have more psychological than that actualrisk management benefit. “The gains in security are dubious,” he says.”The loss of enjoyment to artlovers is guaranteed.”

Related links

The Art of Securing Pricelessness

Museum Heist

Image of “The Scream”