Nana Gongadze, an American University sophomore double-majoring in Art History and Public Relations & Strategic Communication, created an art crime podcast over the summer. Each episode explored famous art heist cases, while also educating the viewer on famous pieces of art. Here, she discusses the conception of the podcast, why she chose art crime, and how she wants to continue telling stories about art history.
How did you come up with the idea for a podcast that focuses specifically on art crime? What about art crime captures your interest?
Last summer, I had a part-time job, so I had a fair bit of time on my hands while living at home. I knew that I wanted to do some kind of creative project, and having gotten really into podcasts, I decided that it might be a good way to create something to both allow me to learn a new skill, and to entertain and inform people. Art history is my favorite topic to learn and talk about, so I knew that the podcast would be about art. At the same time, I wanted to do something that could appeal to an audience wider than really intense art nerds like myself. And because podcasts are not a visual medium, any sort of art analysis is sorely hindered by not having reference images available.
Art crime, meaning forgery and theft, has always been a pet interest of mine—I have read a fair number of nonfiction books on the topic. It’s just the sensational, dark side of the art world, and I am interested in it for the same reasons that people like crime shows. There are so many insane stories about that underworld, like crazy heists and unbelievable forgeries. The nature of the target is what I find interesting—a theft is a theft, but the theft of a one-of-a-kind masterpiece is a lot more interesting. Once a painting is stolen, it simply cannot be replaced. Paintings, especially old ones, are also incredibly delicate, which lends these stories a certain heart-pounding quality.
I decided that art crime would be an ideal topic because it could appeal to both art fans as well as people who like true crime and storytelling-style podcasts. Also, it was something most people don’t already know much about. There was plenty of space around each story to give lots of art-historical detail. I included plenty of background within each episode so that people could also learn about the art. I talked about art from ancient Mesopotamia all the way through the Baroque era and up to modernism, and it was a treat to geek out. I enjoy translating dense art-historical theory and analysis into something accessible and interesting that still retains nuance. I’ve always been the amateur tour guide to my friends and family at art museums, so this was like me getting to do that but for a larger audience.
How would you conceive of episodes for the blog? Where did you find ideas for the podcast?
A lot of my ideas for topics came from the books I read: about the 1990s robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; the WWII-era Vermeer forgeries by Han Van Meegeren; the 1994 theft of one of the version of Munch’s The Scream; and the 80s-90s modernist forgeries by John Drewe and John Myatt. My fourth episode was inspired by a book I read on the Ghent Altarpiece (the world’s most stolen artwork), as well as current events in the Middle East involving cultural property destruction. Before I started my podcast, I made a list of possible topics based on my previous reading, and I ended up choosing from that. There is a lot of great popular art history nonfiction out there, and it makes up pretty much all of my pleasure reading.
What was the production of each episode like? How long would one episode take to create? Did you know how to do the recordings and technical aspects before you began this project?
Production of each episode was done entirely by me, and involved research and script writing, the actual recording, the audio editing, and the promotion/blog and graphics creation. I tend to work really fast (almost manically) when I am inspired. Luckily, when you’re doing everything by yourself, you can keep working until you metaphorically pass out, or just lose steam. I’d record everything in one long take in Garageband, and then use a free audio editing program called Audacity to do the cutting and inserting of extra audio. I borrowed a nice mic from a family friend who does professional voiceovers, so luckily it sounded pretty good considering I am a beginner.
The style of my podcast was inspired by contemporary story-telling radio/podcasts like RadioLab on NPR, and their approach of balancing talking with pauses, music breaks, and different kinds of audio like narration vs interview portions. Essentially, the challenge was to make sure something that was 30 or 40 minutes long would stay engaging and be able to allow a listener to immerse themselves in a story through more than just words. Using different kinds of audio allowed me to do this. Also, some of this supplementary audio and mood setting helped give the listener a suggestion of the artwork without them actually seeing it.
The last thing I did was create a blog post for each episode with images of every artwork I mentioned, as well as supplementary ones. I mentioned in every episode that people should check it out, and I hope they do, because it really deepens your understanding to actually see images of everything being discussed. Sometimes I made graphics, including some unique episode art that I used for promotional purposes.
Would you consider restarting the podcast? What future episodes or topics would you like to cover, if you did?
The Art Crimecast is on officially on indefinite hiatus while I am back at school and doing an internship at the Freer|Sackler. I have caught the podcasting bug and would like to do another art podcast as soon as I can. I may stick to this topic, but I have also been kicking around some other ideas, like a podcast based exploring the lives of models behind famous artworks or interviewing professionals at museums around the city. I really love this method of storytelling—it gives me a chance to explore a topic I am obsessed with in a new way.