11:41am

Fri June 10, 2011
Kentucky Arts and Culture

Stolen Art, Fundraising at Speed Museum

A stolen Italian painting that’s been in the Speed Museum’s collection for nearly 40 years is now on display in Louisville for the last time. The Speed purchased the piece in 1973 for $38,000, and museum officials didn’t know it was stolen until a few months ago. The Speed worked with the U.S. and Italian governments to organize the art’s return. But before the painting is sent back to Italy it will be on display at the Speed through July 3rd.

Museum director Charles Venable says the likelihood that a museum could obtain stolen art again is greatly diminished now. And if a piece does turn out to be stolen, there are protections in place for the buyer.

“Back in the 70s, we basically would have gotten an invoice and after talking to the gallery and them saying they had clear title to it, we basically would have paid them just like a normal business transaction. Now we actually have like a 30-page document that a gallery owner would sign saying that if a problem ever came up and we had to turn a work of art over, they would have to stand by and guarantee the purchase price of that art.”

Most of the Speed’s collection is donated, but Venable says any pieces that are purchased are thoroughly investigated.

The Speed is also currently trying to raise $54 million by next year to finance a major expansion of its facilities on the U of L campus.

Venable says the previous, silent phase of the campaign was a success, and the goal is in sight.

“During this terrible recession, we were already able to raise $33 million and currently we have a $10 million challenge on the table from two anonymous board members. You can do the math, if we have $33 and we have $10 from them, and if we matched it that would give us $53, so we would be very close to our goal and we could go ahead and break ground on time next year to do that expansion,” says Venable.

This also comes in spite of a general malaise in the Louisville arts community, with funding for major institutions waning and Mayor Greg Fischer encouraging arts groups that receive grants from the city to put together a “Plan B’ for next year.