Marc Fennell interview: ‘The Mission shows how chaotic an art heist is’

In the mid-1980s, 26 European masterpieces were slashed out of their frames at a WA bush monastery. Now a new documentary series uncovers a story of art, crime, money and politics.
The Mission. Image is of a man in black T-shirt and jacket with short dark hair, looking at the camera, standing in front of a dark backdrop including blurry Old Master paintings.

In 2021, award-winning journalist Marc Fennell released the documentary series Framed, which uncovered the theft of Picasso’s The Weeping Woman from the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in 1986 – the most expensive painting in Australia at the time. Now Fennell is back with another, even more bizarre, story that takes us to a Spanish Monastery in regional WA four decades ago, where 26 European masterpieces were slashed out of their frames.

The Mission focuses on the little-known art heist, which occurred in the mid-1980s at New Norcia Monastery in the WA Wheatbelt. With the artworks thought to be valued in the millions of dollars and from different periods, the big question was: what were these “European masterpieces” doing in a bush monastery in the first place?

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Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. Most recently she took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne.