The Colosseum (photo by Bjf/Wikimedia Commons)

The Colosseum (photo by Bjf/Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Skratch ‘N Selfie at the Colosseum


Two twentysomethings from California may have to appear before a Roman court and pay a penalty after they were busted scratching their initials into a wall of the Colosseum and then taking a selfie with the traces of their vandalism.

“It’s a piece of cultural heritage,” Antonio Camertoni, who dresses as a Roman centurion and performs outside the ancient amphitheater, told the Guardian. “They don’t do it at home, but they do it here.”

Verdict: If the Carabinieri say it’s illegal, that’s one thing. But if a Roman centurion disapproves, there can be only one punishment: gladiatorial duel to the death.

Night (of Wild Sex) at the Museum


A man and woman on a Valentine’s Day date at (where else?) the Erotic Heritage Museum in Las Vegas were so passionate about the institution that they stayed behind after its doors closed and embarked on a multi-room sex marathon. Security quickly spotted the unwitting voyeurs and summoned staff to stop their unsanctioned, endurance-based, erotic performance art.

Verdict: Time for an update to the old adage — “What happens in Vegas, ends up on TMZ.”

Stinking Thieves Strike Cheese Museum

The world's most expensive cheese slicer (photo via Boska/Twitter)

The world’s most expensive cheese slicer (photo via Boska/Twitter)


An artifact labeled as “the world’s most expensive cheese slicer” — it contains 220 diamonds — was stolen in broad daylight from the Amsterdam Cheese Museum. The object, designed by jeweler Rodrigo Otazu for luxury kitchenware manufacturer Boska, is valued at €25,000 (~$27,000). No matter how you slice it, that’s a lot of cheddar!

Verdict: This tragic event leaves a glaring void in the Amsterdam Cheese Museum’s programming, which used to be so robusto.

Chas Took Museum’s Cash


Charles “Chas” Weldon, the director of the Yellowstone County Museum from 2008 to 2013, stole some $30,000 from the museum beginning in 2009, he admitted in court. Among the details that tipped the museum’s board off to Weldon’s racket was the $867 of museum funds that he spent at a leather store on supplies he used for his leather-making business.

Verdict: It’s a good thing Weldon was brought to justice before he could sell off the crown jewel of the Yellowstone County Museum’s permanent collection, the taxidermy body of a rare two-headed calf.

Making Off with MoMA’s Murillo

Installation view of 'The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World' at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, with Oscar Murillo's unstretched paintings at left (photo by John Wronn; © 2014 The Museum of Modern Art)

Installation view of ‘The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World’ at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, with Oscar Murillo’s un-stretched paintings at left (photo by John Wronn; © 2014 the Museum of Modern Art)


One of the eight Oscar Murillo paintings on un-stretched fabric that lay on the floor in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World was stolen and then promptly returned, “without incident.”

Verdict: I’ll bet one crate of Murillo’s chocolate-covered marshmallows that he stole his own painting.

Statue Smash and Grab


Two thieves struck the Priory Gallery in Broadway, Worcestershire, throwing rocks through its glass façade, grabbing a number of bronze sculptures, a painting, and smaller objects, before fleeing. The loot is collectively worth £20,000 (~$30,000). The stolen artworks include sculptures of a small dog, an owl, a mouse balancing on a ball, and ballet dancers.

“The thieves might want to melt down the bronze, which wouldn’t be all that valuable, but I think they knew what they were doing,” gallery owner Elizabeth James told BBC News. “I think it was either stolen to order, or they took it for themselves, in which case it will slowly filter onto the art market.”

Verdict: Perhaps the thieves are modern-day Robin Hoods intent on distributing kitschy statuary to the destitute and sculpture-less.

Michelangelo Held for Ransom

Detail of Jacopo del Conte, "Portrait of Michelangelo" (circa 1540) (via Wikimedia Commons)

Detail of Jacopo del Conte, “Portrait of Michelangelo” (circa 1540) (via Wikimedia Commons)


A former Vatican employee is demanding €100,000 (~$107,000) ransom for a letter written by Renaissance master Michelangelo that went missing from the archive of the department in charge of maintaining St. Peter’s Basilica in 1997. The Vatican has refused to pay.

Verdict: If ransoming the Vatican doesn’t work out, try consigning to an auction house.

Armless Artist an Easy Target


Michael Davenport, an artist based in Athens, Georgia, who lost both his arms when he was a teenager and learned to make art using his mouth, was robbed of three finished paintings and a portfolio containing supplies worth $400 when he ran into a supermarket to use the bathroom during a recent plein air painting session. “I was so upset I couldn’t talk to the officer at the time,” Davenport told 11 Alive. “It made me cry.”

Verdict: This is too low to even joke about.

After Mosul, ISIS Hits Wisconsin Crafts Museum

Screenshot of the hacked Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts website (via FOX6Now)

Screenshot of the hacked Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts website (via FOX6Now)


Visitors to the website of the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts and Fiber Arts website were in for a surprise yesterday, when they were greeted with a hacked homepage that featured the flag of terrorist organization ISIS and the message “We Are Everywhere ; )” atop the usual graphics. The museum was one of many small businesses all around the US to have its website hacked, purportedly by ISIS.

“I don’t know what this message means,” Olga Rechdouni, the owner of a custom furniture store in West Hollywood whose website was also hacked, told CNN. “I don’t know if I should contact FBI. I don’t know what I should do.”

Colonial Williamsburg claims its website,, was also a victim of the apparent ISIS hacking spree.

Verdict: The current trendiness of folk art has finally reached ISIS. Better beef up those firewalls, American Folk Art Museum.

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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