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Art theft makes you want to 'Scream'

It was news that not only shook the art world, but most of seemingly peaceful Norway as well. Armed, masked robbers marched into Oslo's Munch Museum in broad daylight on Aug.

It was news that not only shook the art world, but most of seemingly peaceful Norway as well.

Armed, masked robbers marched into Oslo's Munch Museum in broad daylight on Aug. 22, threatened an employee with a gun and walked off with one of Edvard Munch's "The Scream" and another of his masterpieces, "The Madonna."

Hours after the robbery, a getaway car and picture frames were found, but little else.

The act was almost unheard of in Norway, where armed robbery is rare and only 10 police officers have been killed on the job in the last 59 years.

But the act caused reverberations throughout the art world, even reaching Fargo-Moorhead.

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"We've thought about it," says Jim O'Rourke, owner of the Rourke Museum and Art Gallery in Moorhead. "People walking into a museum and taking something. It's easier getting it (a piece of art) out of a museum than other places."

The lightly-guarded Munch Museum had silent alarms and unarmed security staff.

Locally, neither the Rourke nor the Plains Art Museum in Fargo have armed security guards. The thought prompts reactions ranging somewhere between preposterous and ridiculous.

Rourke says his museum has video cameras and monitors, which let people know that while they are viewing a work of art, they, too, are being watched.

The video cameras, Rourke says, help cut down on potential theft, as well as vandalism from people touching or writing on pieces of art.

The chances of a theft occurring are also less likely because the value of the art doesn't reach the monetary heights of a Munch piece, Rourke says.

Over at the Plains, operations manager Steve Beckermann says security is always on staff members' minds, particularly when a valuable traveling show, such as the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition, comes to town.

The Plains also monitors all galleries with video cameras and keeps tapes in case something is stolen or vandalized. In addition, emergency exits are alarmed and, after hours, the building is monitored by a security company.

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When a popular exhibit is brought into the Plains, Beckermann says staff is increased to monitor patrons as they stroll through the galleries.

It doesn't hurt, Beckermann adds, that the Plains is only blocks from a police and fire station. "We'd never ask security staff to put themselves in danger," he adds.

However, Rourke and Beckermann say, the security measures are almost unnecessary locally.

In his 45 years of showing art in Fargo-Moorhead, Rourke can only remember two small sculpture items being stolen. Both were small enough to be slipped into a pocket.

Beckermann, in his six years at the Plains, cannot recall a case of vandalism or theft.

"It has a lot to do with people being more honest," Beckermann says. "It's a city without much crime. People are more respectful."

Rourke concurs about the area's honesty. "I worry more about fire than theft," he says.

Both gallery representatives cannot envision the day when armed security guards are on duty, protecting works of art on view in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

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They echo the sentiment of Lise Mjoes, director of the Oslo Municipal art collections, who said, "If we only thought about security, then we would have to place the pictures in a vault, but then they aren't accessible."

Which makes the theft in Oslo even more reprehensible.

Includes information from The Associated Press

Readers can reach Forum features editor Dean Rhodes at drhodes@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5524

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