Published Sept. 20, Gary Vikan’s new book Sacred and Stolen explores the little-seen scandalous side of the art world…all while delving deeper into Vikan’s own life in a moving memoir. We sat down with the author to chat briefly about his newest work.
From theft to forgery to destruction, you’ve seen a lot in your time at the Walters. Why did you decide that now was the time to share the secrets of the curated art world?
In general, secrets are best shared in retirement. And also, I now have time to write!
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while researching and writing Sacred and Stolen?
Well, I would never have figured out who stole that lovely little Renoir from the BMA in 1951 if it were not for the research I did for Sacred and Stolen.
Of course, I discovered all sorts of things about myself while writing this memoir. But what really surprised me, is how many people from my past – all the way back to grade school in the ‘50s up there in frozen Minnesota – I have come to know anew, as I have retraced the path of my life. It reminds me how much they – and my Minnesota upbringing – still mean to me.
Reading about these scandals could definitely change the way the public feels about the seemingly stuffy art world. What do you hope people will take away from the book?
I hope that my readers will come to appreciate that every work of art they encounter in a museum has a story, that most of these are very interesting, and that some of them are scandalous. That’s what I love to do: be the voice for works of art, telling stories they cannot tell themselves.
Which story are you most excited to share?
For Baltimore, for sure, it’s the story of the purloined Renoir. Why? Because it spans more than half a century, is filled with mystery, and in the end, it is, I think, the story of art theft for love.