Art Thieves: True Stories of Love, Crime, and Dangerous Obsessionsby Michael Finkel
Stefan Breitwieser, the subject of Michael Finkel’s The Art Thief, seems enviably having fun at first. Breitwieser, 25, lives with his girlfriend Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus in a small room upstairs in his mother’s house in a “harsh” manufacturing suburb of eastern France, but his work and other daily routines are hard to come by. Free yourself from all the worries about rent and future planning.he fantasizes He himself is of a purer soul, and is so enamored of beauty that, in Finkel’s words, he “devours it.” In a dizzying 200 pages, also an effective advertisement for the Swiss Army Knife (Breiitwieser’s only tool), he hauls art out of museums, aka “art prison” and “perhaps “The most successful and prolific art thief.” Who has ever lived? He piled all the $2 billion worth of artifacts he collected over eight years in the same attic of his mother Mireille Stengel’s “nondescript” stucco house.
Finkel presents satisfying evidence of this astonishing booty with color inserts packed with “ethereal” ivory carvings, sparkling silver goblets, smooth oil paintings, and more. All these Breitwiesers were kept secret in the conjugal lair, not to be fenced off for money, but to enjoy the morning awakenings with just the two of them. For example, George Peter’s 1627 sculpture “Adam and Eve”, which rests on his table at the bedside of the 19th century, in a blown glass vase and in blue and gold “ordered by Napoleon himself”. cigarette box.
Finkel’s account, based largely on an interview with Breitweiser, downplayed practical details as well as security aspects, saying that Stengel was “defeated” when he tried to buy Ikea furniture. It is about a romantic hero. “I’m kind of the opposite of everyone else,” he declared, feeling that “his problem…is irremediably existential. He was born in the wrong century.”Finkel turns readers’ sympathies into a criminal’s point of view, creating a whirlwind of twists and turns freudenfreude.
The romanticization of complex male subjects is an approach that Finkel has had success with before. His previous best-selling book, Stranger in the Woods, about Maine hermit Christopher Thomas Knight, similarly augmented the GQ article. But despite the book’s thin size, Finkel’s efforts to fill the pages ultimately lead to general speculations about why one makes art, and the idea that “yellow goes best with bananas.” It is a burden to fill the page with headache-inducing lines such as “It’s a color that doesn’t work.” His reliance on metaphor gives the book a painting-by-numbers feel. A cautious ex-girlfriend who wants a more normal life. His mother claims he “spoiled” his son too much and never took the stairs to confront what his son was actually going to do.
In the end, we are left with the indication that what we have been offered is only a rough sketch and not the more complex truth. Finkel portrays Breitwieser as a pure aesthete motivated only by aesthetic passion, although he was later arrested for simple shoplifting. Finkel wrote, “For Breitwieser, the beauty of the world culminates in Anne-Catherine and her art collection.” Breitwieser beat her when he found out she had hidden the abortion. “He scared me,” she told the court. To her detective, she says, “I was just an object to him.”
Finally, did Mr. Stengel ever wonder what his son was doing at home? Was her frenzied ‘attic purge’ of throwing her coins into canals and burning paintings in the woods really the ‘ultimate expression of maternal love’ in Breitwieser’s interpretation? (She herself told the police, “I wanted to hurt her son, I wanted to punish her.”) This is the most shocking act in the book, but like the characters in Stengel and Kleinkraus, Finkel remains frustratingly opaque. He sketches out all the complexities and contradictions, rushing swiftly to unsatisfying conclusions, as if he were too involved in his own romantic narrative to destroy it.
Great art, as Brightweezer knows it, is amazing. “The Art Thief” is a popcorn flick of a book that leaves readers riveted, but it doesn’t.
Alex Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book Corpse Facts: Murder and Memoirs.
Art Thieves: True Stories of Love, Crime, and Dangerous Obsessions | By Michael Finkel | Illustrated | 222 Pages | Alfred A. Knopp | $28