Ministry admits grand theft from art museum
Some 202 missing pieces are priceless works belonging to Turkish artists. Hürriyet photo
Over 200 works of art are presently missing from Ankara’s State Art and Sculpture Museum, according to a report from the Culture and Tourism Ministry, which has pinned the blame for the losses on Turkey’s 1980 coup d’etat.
A recent report by the ministry, which was later shelved away from public view to avoid a possible backlash, claims that 46 pieces from the museum’s catalog were stolen and replaced with fake replicas, daily Milliyet reported. The authenticity of 30 more art works is also “highly suspicious,” according to the report.
Some 202 art works, now “missing,” are priceless works of art belonging to Turkish artists such as Şevket Dağ, Şefik Bursalu, Hikmet Onat and Zühtü Müridoğlu, among many others.
Following the theft of 13 pieces of art belonging to Hoca Ali Rıza, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay ordered in 2010 a commission composed of artists, scholars, experts and investigators to investigate the remaining works of art in the museum.
The commission concluded their investigation after meticulously examining approximately 5,000 works of art. The resulting report claimed that despite being registered in the museum inventory, 202 works of art were missing, 46 had been replaced by replicas, while the authenticity of another 27 works were “highly suspicious.” The ministry authorities were shocked by the number of missing and forged art works, but the report was not publicized for fear of invoking a strong reaction.
Meanwhile, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay responded to the debates and said the museum was poorly protected especially after the 1980 coup.
“The Ankara State Art and Sculpture Museum was founded in April 1980 and left significantly unattended and managed inadequately as a result of the Sept. 12  coup. During this time, the museum records were not kept, healthy inventory work was not done and necessary minimum precautions were not taken,” he said.
During the 2000s, the museum was closed as part of a restoration project, he also said.
Many art professionals, however, have reacted harshly to the news about the losses.
Yahşi Baraz, an art gallery owner, said the State Art and Sculpture Museum did not have an adequate inventory system in place and that it was possible to switch original paintings with fake ones.
“The Culture and Tourism Ministry should share which works of art are missing with the public,” said Baraz. “Furthermore, these art works might even be abroad at the moment. The funny thing is that someone might have bought one of the pieces not knowing it was stolen.”