The Museum of Lost Art – book review

From the bestselling author of The Art of Forgery, Noah Charney, comes this fantasy art adventure, The Museum of Lost Art. This is a stroll through a museum that could never exist. It’s a visit to a gallery of the ‘once was’, perhaps a wander through a hall of ‘lost forever’, and a tentative toe-dipping into an underworld of crime and seamy politics.Museum of lost art

The Museum of Lost Art tells the stories of artworks which, through the centuries, have been stolen, looted, destroyed in war, thrown away, sunk or burnt. Artists have painted over or plastered over their own work, thus leaving art historians the dilemma: do we destroy the top to reveal what’s underneath?

No way of knowing what gems are in private collections

It’s thought that there are more lost artworks than those left to us. It’s a difficult statistic to prove as there is no way of knowing what gems are in private collections or in the keeping of unsuspecting owners whose treasures are stuffed away in leaky lofts.

There are well-documented cases of terrorists and other criminals stealing art. It was, for me at least, a surprise to learn that the proceeds from stolen art are eclipsed only by those of drugs and firearms. It’s a dark international trade which shows no sign of diminishing. There are still low-tech raids on private homes, along with daring robberies from galleries and museums.

Perhaps the more worrying departure from theft for profit is that of wanton destruction for religious or ideological reasons. In truth, that isn’t a recent phenomenon but one which has existed as long as there has been painting and sculpture, and people with extreme views. It is a testament to how powerful art can be.

There is also a Lost Art aspect which is somewhat less depressing. There are all those temporary exhibits which were never designed to last. A wrapped bridge, structures that were built to be blown up, and houses to be burnt down – the act of destruction being part of the artistic experience, although unrepeatable.

The Museum of Lost Art has a wealth of illustrations to bring alive these curious tales

Had these artworks not disappeared, one wonders how different our world might now look. Those pieces might have inspired not only artists but designers and architects to take another path, another view.

The Museum of Lost Art has a wealth of illustrations to bring alive these curious tales. It’s a fascinating and engaging read and a commentary not only on art but also on its place in civil, religious, and political society.

The Museum of Lost Art
Author: Noah Charney
Published by: Phaidon Press
Price: £19.95
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-0714875842