Venice documents a party staged for the camera, with drinks and music and animated conversation. Under the footage scrolls a text, detailing a real-life art heist that took place in Venice in 1999.
Venice co-produced by Banff Centre for the Arts
“The following incident was reported in the international press in September 1999. It is the story of a group of clever con men who managed to get hold of some very expensive paintings without paying for them. The trick was to know the ideal stage and backdrop for dealing in art and to have a sense for the right athmosphere of a dealer/collector relationship. The journalists reported how three gallerists fell into the trap.
A Venetian collector called the gallerist Derek Johns in London and asked for a painting by Guardi which he had seen at an art fair. The gallerist remembered the man being interested in the painting at the art fair. Now the collector was in a hurry. He wanted to give the painting valued at £ 55.000 to his daughter as a wedding present. The gallerist sent an assistant with the painting to Venice. When she arrived in a watertaxi the house looked decent and well kept. But inside the house she witnessed a theatre performance where unknowingly she was to play the main role. The stage design was immaculate. The furniture was excellent and the walls were covered by paintings. It smelled of strong coffee and fresh flowers were everywhere. Even the bathroom looked 'real'.
The son of the house in his mid-twenties and staff members awaited her. He explained that his father was late as he had to look after the grandmother who was in the hospital. The gallery assistant waited and was not suspicious. Then came another phone call from the father. He was very apologetic but could not be there in time as his mother was not well. But he definitively confirmed his intention to buy the painting. He suggested that the painting be left with his son against a receipt of reception. The gallerist decided to leave the painting with the family and the assistant left for her flight. The next day an assistant of the Amsterdam gallery Douves travelled to the same house with two paintings worth £100.000. The paintings, which had also been shown at an art fair before were again supposed to be a wedding present for the daughter.
When the gallerist came to the house the Guardi painting from the day before, installed on an easel enriched the stage. The same play was performed. Watertaxi, grandmother, telephone call. The gallerist also left his paintings in the villa. Two hours later a German gallerist arrived with his wife and an assistant and a painting by Jaghers worth £120.000. The Germans found the same scene now enriched by the two Dutch paintings. Apparently the police now know that more than a dozen gallerists had been taken for a ride. When the German gallerist came back to the house the next day, after another telephone appointment had been cancelled nobody opened the door. The villa had only been rented for a week, paid with an uncovered cheque.”