Monday, January 08, 2007

Alain Lacousiere is kick-ass and/or wicked cool I haven't quite decided yet


Back on October 31 I was lucky enough to get to talk to Alain Lacousiere. If you would like to listen to the interview, click on this, Ogg Vorbis, Stream it [87.7M 45:28 min]. Please understand that Detective Lacoursiere's first language is not English, as a consequence thinking in French while listening to the interview might make it more comprehensible. If you can't pull that off, go see Good Cop Bon Cop.

Who? You ask? Well, he's the art crimes officer that is large and in charge for Quebec, and since there ain't no one like him in the rest of the country, you could say Canada as well. He has a significant part in Rechercher Victor Pellerin (my new favorite movie) and since I got my petard hoisted by the film, I initially thought that it would be a good idea to interview Detective Lacoursiere on all these potentially undetected art crimes before auction season hit. I gave him a call and asked if I could talk to him. Much to my surprise (and chagrin) he said 'yes.' Once I realized that not only was it my petard that had been hoisted by the film, and that my eyes had been covered by some really thick wool, as I stuck my head into some rather dark places around my crotch, I suddenly realized I might be walking down what I thought was a long pier, when it wasn't.

But thankfully it didn't work out that way. I discovered just in time that Rechercher Victor Pellerin (my new favorite movie) was in fact a piece of fiction. The interview with Detective Lacoursiere was set up because there was too much bureaucracy involved in tracking down Ms. Desraspe (more on that later, and she is freakin' brilliant) and at the time I did not think I would be able to get an interview with her. So as a consequence, there wasn't all that much that we discussed about the movie with Detective Lacoursiere, but in retrospect, I kind of get a kick out of how it worked out. It was not a case of settling for Detective Lacoursiere, because I couldn't nail the interview with Ms. Desraspe, if I was or had been in a different place (say like sixth grade) I'd be desperately asking Detective Lacoursiere to be my best friend. If I had been a freshman at university, Detective Lacoursiere would have been the senior upon whom I had a man-crush. As I'm not in sixth grade, nor am I in university, all I can say is that I am mighty impressed, completely slack jawed and jealous beyond all get out.

Not only did Detective Lacoursiere invent his job out of thin air, and then convince his bosses (and I am fairly certain that in the SPVM there are thousands of bosses) that he was the only person who could do this job. But the job that he decided that he wanted to do, involved him holding some stuff that 'just so happened' to have been made by this guy Leonardo Da Vinci. Or in other words 'wicked cool!' So, in a nutshell, if you happen to be studying Art History, and are a tad worried about what you're going to do once you graduate, might I be so bold as to suggest become a cop – from everything I've heard it sounds pretty gosh darn cool.

[Note: Since I wrote this, there has been a thing going around the internet about the article in the Art Newspaper on the London police recruiting curators and Art History grads. It sounds vaguely similar, but not quite half as much fun.]

I started off asking about the film Rechercher Victor Pellerin (my new favorite movie) and now that I can go back and review the tape, so to speak, I get a serious kick out of the fact that he and Ms. Desraspe can't quite get their stories straight. Basically, Detective Lacoursiere says that no one involved in the film beyond Ms. Desraspe, Sylvain Bouthillette, Bernard Lamarche, and Eric Devlin know that Rechercher Victor Pellerin (my new favorite movie) was a mocumentary. In my interview with Ms. Desraspe she tells me that the whole film was scripted. It is always fun when everyone is trying to hustle you for something.

But since I hadn't spoken to Ms. Desraspe before I spoke to Detective Lacoursiere most of my interview with him did not involve Rechercher Victor Pellerin (my new favorite movie), sorry. Once we had gotten the fact that Detective Lacoursiere gets asked six ways from last Friday about being in films (documentary and others) and for the most part tells them 'no,' but that there was something about Ms. Desraspe and the three hour discussion she had with him prior to making the film, and that I had thought he was an utterly and completely fantastic actor that line of questioning sort of fell apart underneath me.

But thankfully I had done some homework. And for those of you that have been hiding their head's under a rock for the past 34 years, or maybe just haven't been paying too much attention to recent history. There was a pretty super spectacular, almost awesome, and wickedly wild art crime that happened here in Montreal in 1972. I'm fairly certain that y'all know about the rip-off that happened at the Isabella Gardner museum in Boston in 1990. But if you ignore that sentence that I just wrote above, can you name the biggest and most significant Canadian art crime? What about the 2nd most valuable North American Art Crime? Heck did you even know that on Labor Day in 1972 there was a Rembrandt painting that was stolen from the Musee des beaux arts de Montreal?

You're going to have to listen to the audio part of this post in order to find out all that Detective Lacoursiere is willing to share with the public. But to make it worth your while, there are numerous times where he makes me look and sound like I am a fool. Some of the stuff that he is involved with is capable of making me want to get all the copies of the Thomas Crowne Affair (both versions) and study it frame by frame. I should have mentioned this earlier, but if you are in fact listening along to the audio version of my interview with Detective Lacoursiere he does an absolutely fabulous and wonderful job of making things sound 100 times better than anything Steve McQueen and/or Pierce Brosnan could have pulled off.

Part (or maybe most) of it has to do with the fact that Detective Lacoursiere was first and foremost a cop. Since 1976 he's been a keeper of the peace. I don't know exactly when, but at some point before he became The Art Crimes guy, he was undercover in the biker wars (not something I'd volunteer for if you were to ask me) and then after that my understanding is that he did outreach to marginal communities. And after doing that, my best guess would be that anything would be better. So, I don't know if it was due to his friendship with Serge Lemoyne, or for some other reason, but instead of trying to climb the SPVM ladder, Detective Lacoursiere decided to switch from a BA in management to a BA in Art History.

The first Art Crime he solved involved a carpet. But to me what is coolest is what he knows about what got ripped off from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. I personally would love to see copies of the file. But somehow I don't think it is possible. In a nutshell, three guys spent pretty much the whole summer of 1972 hanging out on the roof of what is now the Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. They were watching while workers were renovating the museum. On September 4, they broke in through the skylight went into the employee's kitchen and tied up one guard. They then blasted some holes in in the ceiling with a shotgun which made the other two guards come running. Those two guards were tied up like the first one, and then they set about taking the paintings off the gallery walls. They moved them to the garage and in doing so accidentally set off the alarm. As a consequence they ended up having to hoof it down Sherbrooke street.

What makes it the stuff of legends, is that they got away with a Brueghel, a kick ass Rembrandt (apparently one of his last landscapes and at the time worth more than $1 million) and a Rubens.

A couple of weeks later someone called to try and negotiate their return for about $50,000. One painting was left to prove that they indeed did have the loot, and in the second go 'round of negotiations the director of the museum apparently got cold cold feet and put a kibosh on the whole thing. About three years ago a student with whom Detective Lacoursiere had studied with came to him with some unpublicized information about the theft, but he was unable to get them returned. Detective Lacoursiere thinks that the paintings are no longer in North America.

This led to a more general discussion of art thefts, and how Detective Lacoursiere thinks that the large majority of them are done by organized crime groups like the Hell's Angels, the Bandidos, the West End Gang, etc. Apparently one of the biker gangs here in Quebec sold a painting by Cezanne through Christies, that little tidbit made me write in my notes 'Wicked Fucking Cool!!!!!' Add that little bit of information to this article in the Art Newspaper, and suddenly I understand completely and thoroughly, 100% why Iegor has no interest in publishing the prices he gets, if and when he gets a price.

We got further afield and I got completely slack-ass when I asked him 'How can you prevent art theft?' Like, that's so original. Detective Lacoursiere took it in stride, brought in some pretty interesting anecdotes about how he went so school with an art thief, and there was this other guy who he has arrested two times who skidaddled out of town and now is in Switzerland, and then how Switzerland is a haven for art criminals, and how fragmented the Art Crime Prevention scene is worldwide. I imagine that if there was time enough Detective Lacoursiere would have enough stories to fill the Smithsonian.

We wrapped up the conversation with him explaining what really turns his crank about the job. I could see the grin explode across his face as he described being able to physically hold a Modigliani or a Gauguin painting on all sides, something, which he pointed out not even a curator can do. And the amount of joy he derived from being so completely and thoroughly immersed in art at all times.

Note to Art History students: Consider applying to Cop School after graduation, the gig sounds pretty cool, and you can retire at the age of 50.

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