Cyrus Farivar asks:
Why is it so easy to steal art in Europe?
Smaller galleries and no guns. Europe has an especially high concentration of world-class art collections, many of which are housed in modest institutions. The art in Zurich was housed in a 19th-century villa, as opposed to a large-scale museum with a complicated entrance. Further, most security personnel in European museums aren’t armed, mostly due to a culture of openness and trust, but also for reasons of expense and liability—you wouldn’t want bullets flying around an enclosed space with lots of frightened tourists and precious objets d’art. While many galleries have alarms, guards, and other staff to prevent off-hour thefts, they don’t always take precautions to avoid the most obvious scenario: armed criminals walking right through the front door.
American art museums aren’t likely to have armed guards, either, but they do tend to have better security overall than their European counterparts. In the United States, your chances of finding a Van Gogh on display in a small gallery are slim; more likely, it would be in a museum on the scale of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. American museums also tend to be located in modern buildings, where it’s easier to set up high-tech sensors and alarms. The proprietors of centuries-old European houses are more reluctant to start drilling through walls and running cables in odd corners.