Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art

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Hot Art traces Joshua Knelman?s five-year immersion in the shadowy world of art theft, where he uncovers a devious game that takes him from Egypt to Los Angeles, New York to London, and back again, through a web of deceit, violence, and corruption. With a cool, knowing eye, Knelman delves into the lives of professionals such as Paul, a brilliant working-class kid who charmed his way into a thriving career organizing art thefts, and LAPD detective Donald Hrycyk, one of the few special investigators worldwide who ...
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Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art

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Hot Art traces Joshua Knelman’s five-year immersion in the shadowy world of art theft, where he uncovers a devious game that takes him from Egypt to Los Angeles, New York to London, and back again, through a web of deceit, violence, and corruption. With a cool, knowing eye, Knelman delves into the lives of professionals such as Paul, a brilliant working-class kid who charmed his way into a thriving career organizing art thefts, and LAPD detective Donald Hrycyk, one of the few special investigators worldwide who struggle to keep pace with the evolving industry of stolen art. As he becomes more and more immersed in this world, Knelman learns that art theft has evolved into one of the largest black markets in the world, which even Interpol and the FBI admit they cannot contain. Sweeping and fast-paced, Hot Art takes readers into a criminal underworld like no other.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Joshua Knelman's Hot Art is a work of nonfiction, and compared to the literary or cinematic realm of art theft and thieves, the truth is grittier, quirkier, and far more interesting."
Foreword Reviews

"Joshua Knelman exposes thieves, detectives, and collectors obsessed with Hot Art (Tin House)."
Vanity Fair

"Your spring non-fiction reading.... deep thoughts on the nature of man.... Through interviews with cops, FBI agents, and a prominent former smuggler, [Knelman] shows how corrupt dealers (and public indifference) have helped this nearly unpoliced form of criminal activity become so pervasive"
Details Magazine

"...Knelman makes shrewd use of extensive interviews with figures on both side of the law, allowing him to fully establish this hidden, high-stakes milieu...Engaging expose of an underground world...."

"Knelman takes readers on a fascinating journey through a criminal underworld that defies logic and confounds policing agencies from Los Angeles to Scotland Yard....Knelman [is] a born storyteller..."

"Knelman is a brilliant narrative writer and reporter who has assembled a cast of oddball sleuths and crooks rich enough to people five TV series. He takes us inside a huge and growing region of the global underworld. A thrilling read."
—Paul Steiger, editor in chief, ProPublica

"...fascinating and gripping from start to finish....a look into the real world of art."
San Francisco Review

"Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art creeps up on you. Wickedly entertaining.... Joshua Knelman’s in-depth investigation of the international trade in stolen art may read like a TV crime novel, but it delves deeper than that, deftly allowing art theft to serve as an extended metaphor for exploitive, unregulated, free-for-all global capitalism."
Literary Review of Canada

"let me know when your book hits the shelves and i'll go and shoplift myself a copy."
—e-mail from Banksy

"Lo, thriller readers & writers: Just got Joshua Knelman's nonfic Hot Art, re: art thieves & detecs hunting them - you will love!"
—Tweet by Margaret Atwood

“Joshua Knelman’s Hot Art has it all: fascinating characters, great stories, and an intriguing subject matter, the world of art crimes. It is totally engrossing. I couldn’t stop reading it.”
—Ted Kotcheff, Executive Producer, Law & Order: SVU

"With an eye for detail worthy of Rembrandt's Landscape with Cottages (1654, stolen from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1972), Joshua Knelman has painted a luminous portrait of the interconnected world of thieves, cops, and lawyers obsessed with stolen art. Whether he's writing about those who covet the art or those who protect it, Knelman's gifts as an investigator and storyteller drip from every page. Hot Art? Hot book."
—Jeremy Keehn, Associate Editor, Harper's Magazine

"This is a crackerjack of a book--with enough rogues, thieves, and amoral civilians (not all of them on the radar of relentless cops) to people a dozen crime novels. First-rate."
—Giles Blunt, best-selling author of the John Cardinal mystery series, including Crime Machine and Forty Words for Sorrow

"Now this is investigative reporting. Dogged, fearless, and thrillingly thorough, Joshua Knelman becomes our Virgil through the secret underworld of stolen art. Like legendary muckrakers Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh, and Barlett and Steele, Knelman relentlessly trails both the bad guys and the slightly less bad guys, looking for truth amidst all the deceit. It's an astonishing debut, and serious readers must take note--long-form reporting has a new title in the canon."
—Richard Poplak, author of Ja No Man: Growing up White in Apartheid Era South Africa, The Sheik's Batmobile: Pop Culture in the Middle East, and Kenk: A Graphic Novel

"Knelman's book is the Godfather of investigative journalism. He takes us to places we always wanted to be but didn't dare to enter, he makes us fall for people we are not supposed to love--on both side of the law. Congratulations, this is haute art!"
—Andras Hamori, Executive Producer, The Sweet Herearfter and Fugitive Pieces

“Art theft is one of the largest underground markets in the world, yet very few people know how it works, or how to stop it. Joshua Knelman delves into this uncharted world with an open curiosity, befriending the detectives dedicated to retrieving stolen art, the lawyers struggling to protect cultural property, and the thieves who have their own reasons for doing what they do. These pages are full of shady characters and experts determined to outwit each other; an intriguing look at human lusts and foibles. Hot Art is fascinating, smart, and a page-turner.”
—Catherine Osborne, Deputy Editor, Azure Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Skillfully rendered overview of the startlingly complex world of art fraud and thievery. Toronto-based journalist Knelman makes shrewd use of extensive interviews with figures on both sides of the law, allowing him to fully establish this hidden, high-stakes milieu. The author argues that, far from being a sexy victimless crime, art theft has a hugely corrupting influence on museums, commerce and cultural patrimony. As one thief tells him, "It's like a big shell game. All the antique and art dealers, they just pass it around from one to another." One key element of the story is provided by "Paul," a retired British art thief who has since started an angry blog on the topic called Art Hostage. Paul explains why this has been such a profitable criminal specialty: It is low-risk and high-reward, the police response is often disorganized and the purportedly legitimate art market is suffused with hidden relationships and secrecy. As the LAPD's art-theft specialist observed, "some art dealers act like drug dealers." Since the 1980s, law enforcement has coordinated tracking efforts with the industry-run Art Loss Register, yet numerous unscrupulous individuals evade their efforts, constantly developing innovations to both hide, and eventually sell, stolen art. The FBI finds stolen art at auction 15 to 20 times per year, while the few urban cops on the art detail have consistently found it being used as underground-economy currency by drug dealers and organized crime. Knelman's account is surprisingly pessimistic, but it's entertainingly written, with a fine sense of the cultural landscape that drives both thieves and a handful of cops to become self-educated art experts in perpetual competition. Engaging exposé of an underground world less glamorous and more intricate than its Hollywood representations.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935639381
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 825,549
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua Knelman is an award-winning journalist and editor. He was a founding editorial member of The Walrus magazine, and his writing has appeared in Toronto Life, Saturday Night, the National Post, and the Globe and Mail. Knelman’s feature article “Artful Crimes,” published in The Walrus, won a gold National Magazine Award. Knelman is also the coeditor of Four Letter Word: New Love Letters, which has sold in ten countries.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 10, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    One of the main problems with nonfiction is that it can read lik

    One of the main problems with nonfiction is that it can read like…well, like nonfiction. Given that the real world is stranger and more random than anything we can think up in a novel, there’s no good reason for this.

    Hot Art doesn’t have this problem. The opening chapter – with the author riding along with LAPD detectives en route to an antique-store burglary in West Hollywood – reads like the start of a detective novel, and I fully expected Harry Bosch or Elvis Cole to be waiting at the scene. If later on the book settles into some talking-head action, the colorful characterizations of those heads keeps things from lapsing into textbookism.

    Canadian journalist Joshua Knelman spent several years putting this book together, traveling as far afield as Los Angeles and Cairo to see the various gears of the art-crime machine grind away. While he stops in some of the expected places – both Dick Ellis and Robert Wittman make appearances – Knelman does something not very many other art-crime writers do: he also talks to the thieves themselves. Some of the liveliest chapters are those we spend in the company of Paul, a one-time Brighton “knocker” (door-to-door recon for art thieves) who became a central figure in the British art black market before retiring to more genteel pastimes, such as benefits fraud.

    Another refreshing change is that Knelman doesn’t spend a lot of time on the marquee art thefts, the ones that get big headlines worldwide. His interviewees emphasize that the $6 billion annual illicit art market revolves around lesser-known artworks stolen from living rooms or offices, not the multimillion-dollar masterpieces that Paul calls “headache art.” So if you’re fed up with reading about the Gardner heist or Martin Cahill, you won’t have to lose much time on them here.

    This is a solid 4.5 stars, but I’ve rounded down for a few minor reasons. For one, there tends to be general agreement about the outlines of the art-crime world among both the cops and the crooks Knelman interviews; this means some of the same points get repeated, over and over. Auction houses and galleries take a drubbing from most every talking head here, but there’s little time devoted to their side of the story. Knelman uses space implying there’s more information rather than just giving it to us; for instance, more than once I wished he’d just give Paul the mike and let the man talk, or at least share more of the info from those interviews. Also, while he emphasizes the role played by growing Internet-accessible stolen-art databases, he doesn’t close the loop by demonstrating that all that data-gathering is actually helping recovery or closure rates. Finally, Knelman falls into the common trap of constantly name-checking The Thomas Crown Affair, which has become the standard whipping boy among art-crime specialists for what art crime isn’t. Point taken, but does nearly every interview need to say this?

    Despite these petty cavils, Hot Art is a good way to catch up with current doings in the art-crime arena, particularly if you’re not a specialist. Knelman’s prose goes down easy, and his characters are vivid and make good company. Like Chasing Aphrodite, it takes a large and complicated subject and makes it sound like pulp fiction. If you’d like to know more about art theft than just Rene Russo’s transparent dress, check this out.

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