THEFT AT THE MUSEUM FOR EAST ASIAN ART COLOGNE
ON SEPTEMBER 13, 2023
On the night between September 12 and 13, 2023, unknown persons broke into the Museum for East Asian Art Cologne (MOK) and stole nine Chinese porcelain objects. Security personnel on site remained uninjured and immediately notified the police. The museum director and further museum staff were able to examine the damage in situ on the same night. All of the stolen pieces (listed in a PDF linked below), dating from the 16th to 19th centuries, were produced in imperial context.
The staff members of the Museum for East Asian Art are shocked and deeply consternated by the burglary. More than a financial and material damage, the museum mourns a loss of intangible nature: the large majority of the stolen objects belonged to MOK’s initial collection holdings, which the museum founders Adolf and Frieda Fischer acquired for the institution in China between 1906 and 1911, documenting the acquisitions in detail in their purchase diary. Among the stolen objects, further, was a Ming-dynasty yellow-glazed dish, which only recently entered the museum collection as a gift donated by the Circle of Friends of the Museum for East Asian Art in 2015. The imperial porcelains, which saw a technical and stylistic heyday during the corresponding eras of their manufacture, were generally produced in series; today, individual pieces are often only rarely seen. The nine pieces stolen from the MOK possess an iconic quality, each one in its own way; their unique collection history is fundamentally coalesced with the museum’s identity. Art- and culture-historically, they are of inestimable value.
The crime incident is preceded this year by a burglary with failed attempt at theft in January, and an attempted burglary in June. Following the January event, security precautions at the MOK were massively heightened: architectonically, with regard to security systems, and in terms of security personnel. The break-in on September 13 was carried out with great effort and violence. The thereupon implemented security measures were decided in close consultation with the museum’s security advisor, local criminal police, and Department for Art and Culture of the City of Cologne. While the investigation is underway, the museum is collaborating with the authorities involved to assess how security measures at the MOK can be further expanded.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office is involved in the current investigation; its case has been registered at Interpol. The international dimension of the investigation corresponds to the cultural significance and financial value of the stolen property. The objects are very well documented and therefore clearly identifiable, and so it is hoped that they will eventually find their way back into the museum collection. The Museum for East Asian Art Cologne, which sees itself under new directorship as of July 2023, seeks to make meaningful and sustainable use of the unfortunate incident, for itself and for the museum world. Addressing the art theft publicly, whether in the form of a designated separate space on the museum website or a specially dedicated area in the exhibition halls, plays an important role in initially dealing with the loss, in order to draw attention to and raise awareness for the targeted, professionalized criminal activities that have become manifest throughout Europe in recent years through museum burglaries in many places. In the long run, the grave significance of systematic art theft as a currently widespread phenomenon must be made more visible: the current burglary at the Museum for East Asian Art serves as a wake-up call, not only in Cologne, but also countrywide and worldwide.
For strategical reasons concerning the investigation, further information on the burglary cannot be published at this time.
For insurance-related reasons, further information on the value of the stolen collection items cannot be provided at this time.
Museum for East Asian Art Cologne
September 22, 2023
Exhibition | Current
Dezember 15, 2023 to April 7, 2024
The Museum for East Asian Art Cologne is delighted to show contemporary works by Helena Parada Kim. The Cologne-born artist of Korean-Spanish origins studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf as master student under British painter Peter Doig. more
Exhibition | Current
November 30, 2023 to April 1, 2024
The museum will be exhibiting 60 elaborately crafted and skillfully decorated netsuke to mark the 60th anniversary of the twinning of the cities of Cologne and Kyoto. The small sculptures from the Kamigata metropolitan region and the Kyoto school symbolise the long-lasting friendship between these two cities. more
Exhibition | Current
January 19, 2024 to April 7, 2024
In January 1974, the art collector Hans-Wilhelm Siegel (1903–1997) founded the non-profit Oriental Endowment for the Promotion of East Asian Art in Cologne. The endowment’s fund came from the proceeds Siegel received from the sale of his important collection of Chinese and Southeast Asian art objects to the city of Cologne. The collection was built during his five decades as a businessman in East Asia. Siegel’s patronage inspired other collectors to establish art foundations that are now an integral part of Cologne’s museum landscape. To mark the 50th anniversary, the exhibition presents fifty selected works from the Siegel Collection as well as acquisitions that have since been financed with the earnings of the endowment’s capital for the Museum of East Asian Art. more
The Museum for East Asian Art was opened in 1913 as the first specialist museum of its kind in Europe. It now houses one of the most distinguished collections of art from China, Korea and Japan in Germany.more
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