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Crimes of the Art

Objects that once belonged to Empress Eugenie, in the Chinese Museum at the Château de Fontainebleau (Photo © Château de Fontainebleau)
Some of the objects stolen from the Chinese Museum at the Château de Fontainebleau (Photo © Château de Fontainebleau)

Crimes of the Art is a weekly survey of artless criminals’ cultural misdeeds. Crimes are rated on a highly subjective scale from one “Scream” emoji — the equivalent of a vandal tagging the exterior of a local history museum in a remote part of the US — to five “Scream” emojis — the equivalent of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist.

King’s Crown Can’t Be Found

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3In a matter of seven minutes, thieves made off with 15 objects from the Chinese Museum at the Château de Fontainebleau south of Paris. The objects taken include a replica of the King of Siam’s crown, which was gifted to Napoleon III in 1861.

“We think they were very determined, knew exactly what they were looking for and worked in a very professional manner,” said Jean-Francois Hebert, director of Fontainebleau. According to France’s culture ministry, the Chinese Museum is “one of the most secure parts of the palace, equipped with alarms and surveillance cameras.”

Verdict: If that was really the most secure part of Fontainebleau, someone should probably take inventory of the other parts.

Florida Man Embezzles Botero Booty

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Jeffrey Hall, the former manager of Millenia Gallery in the Orlando suburb of Maitland, was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of diverting some $1.5 million from the gallery’s sales into his private account. His embezzling activity, which took place between between 2006 and 2009, included pocketing $450,000 from the sale of the Fernando Botero painting “Femme habillée par Givenchy.” He was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, and will pay a restitution, the sum of which has yet to be determined.

Verdict: $450,000 for a Botero painting?! (A Botero painting not from his Abu Ghraib series, that is.) Now that is criminal.

Florida Art Teacher’s Erotica Assignment Earns an F

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1An art teacher at Pelican Elementary School in Cape Coral, Florida, has been disciplined after two of her students told their parents that she had distributed books that “detail crime, sex, and violence” and “have titles like Beyond Suspicion and Prior Bad Acts” to their class.

“She told us all the books were adult books and they had a whole bunch of bad words and bad sentences in them and she told us not to tell our parents,” Gabby, a nine-year-old who failed that assignment miserably, told Fox 4.

The fourth grade class was to use the adult books as raw material for making Christmas trees out of paper.

Verdict: Clearly the teacher’s fault. The only book that should be cut up and sculpted into the form of a Christmas tree is the Bible.

Sign Artist Stopped

Road sign intervention by Mami Urakawa (photo by Lea Martimucci/Instagram)
Road sign intervention by Mami Urakawa (photo by Lea Martimucci/Instagram)

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2The Japanese-born, Florence-based street artist Mami Urakawa was arrested for tampering with road signs in Kyoto and Osaka. She, along with her boyfriend Clet Abraham, transformed some 60 signs between late December and early January. Police in Kyoto prefecture deemed the altered signs dangerous, though no accidents occurred as a result of Urakawa and Abraham’s interventions.

“I was aware that putting stickers would impair the function of the traffic signs, although it is recognized as art overseas,” Urakawa told police. She has since been released.

Verdit: The only thing worse than humorless streetscapes are humorless police forces.

Photocopied Cash for Your Fake Goya

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4A pair of hapless Spanish brothers who sought to sell a fake Francisco de Goya painting to a deep-pocketed sheikh realized they’d been had when they attempted to deposit the 1.7 million Swiss francs (~$1.77 million) the buyer had given them, only to be told the bank notes were photocopies. The sheik, who has since disappeared along with the middleman who delivered the fake down payment, had allegedly agreed to pay €4 million (~$4.47 million) for the fake copy of “Portrait of don Antonio María Esquivel.”

Verdict: When cons con other cons, everybody wins!

Billionaire’s Art Man Skimmed Some Off the Top

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1Yves Bouvier, owner of art shipping and storage giant Natural Le Coultre and one of the principal investors in the new Luxembourg Freeport, was arrested in Monaco on charges of price fixing in the art market, complicity in money laundering, and fraud. Among other infractions, Bouvier allegedly overcharged Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev while serving as his middleman in a number of high-stakes art purchases. Bail was set at €10 million ($11.2 million).

Verdict: A man who helped build a tiny tax haven for stashing valuables was involved in crooked deals? Shocking.

Nude Artist Checks Out Nude Art

Still from Miro Moiré's "How little abstraction can art tolerate?" (2015) (video screenshot by the author)
Still from Miro Moiré’s “How little abstraction can art tolerate?” (2015) (video screenshot by the author)

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Milo Moiré, the Swiss performance artist who caused a stir last year when she squeezed paint-filled eggs out of her vagina outside Art Basel, turned up naked and accompanied by a similarly birthday-suited baby at the LWL Museum for Art and Culture in Muenster, Germany, to tour the exhibition Live Nude, which includes paintings by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and others. Though she was not reprimanded for her impromptu performance, she did catch the eye of Tobias Meyer, former global head of contemporary art at Sotheby’s, who just happened to be visiting the museum at the time.

“I must admit it was more interesting than the average art exhibition,” Meyer said.

Verdict: Meyer’s endorsement earns this silly stunt an extra “Scream” — which, incidentally, he once sold for $120 million.

As Easy as Stealing Art from a Kid

crimes-of-the-art-scream-5A new all-time low in art crime was achieved at 4am on Sunday, when a man stole seven artworks from an exhibition of student projects at the Ivy Tech Waldron Arts Center in Bloomington, Indiana. A crime of only slightly lesser gravity was committed by Fox 59, whose article about the robbery opens with this incomplete sentence: “Bloomington police say seven pieces of art that were made by school children.”

Verdict: Stealing art from kids and teaching them bad grammar hurts them now and in the future.

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