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Crimes of the Art

The empty frame of a Rembrandt painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. (screenshot by the author via "Thirteen Works: Explore the Gardner's Stolen Art")
The empty frame of a Rembrandt painting stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. (screenshot by the author via “Thirteen Works: Explore the Gardner’s Stolen Art“)

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.

Gardner Heist Player Picked Up on Gun Charge

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Speaking of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, Robert V. Gentile, the only living person of interest in the 25-year-old case, was arrested in Connecticut for trying to sell a weapon to an undercover agent. The 78-year-old has repeatedly denied having any knowledge of the Gardner case or the whereabouts of the 13 stolen works, despite investigators’ insistence that he was involved.

Verdict: When the cops are trying to pin a crime on you, don’t try to sell them guns.

“Hacker of Islam” Hits Mexican Art Museum Website

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1The homepage of the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago was targeted by a hacker who left the site blank but for the message “Muslim Hacker, Hacker of Islam, Proud to Be Musliman <3.” “It’s really, really bizarre,” said chief curator Cesareo Moreno. “It could just be a prank, and the police did say that.”

Verdict: The use of emoticons, especially hearts, tends to undermine the seriousness of a hacker’s motives.

Ballet Company Creep Pointed to the Door

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4Bruce Monk, longtime instructor and photographer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, was placed on paid leave after the administration learned he was being investigated for taking inappropriate photos of students.

Verdict: This calls for much more than paid leave.

Drug-Buying Art Robot Set Free

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2A robot that the Swiss art collective !Mediengruppe Bitnik created to randomly buy items from the internet with a weekly allowance of 100 Bitcoins has been released after it and all its purchases — including 120 milligrams of ecstasy — were seized following the closing of an exhibition at the Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen. The robot was returned, but the drugs were confiscated and destroyed.

Verdict: Thanks to Swiss authorities’ quick thinking, recreational drug use remains one of the few things that separates humans from robots.

Simpsons Co-Creator’s Lichtenstein Lifted

A 'Simpsons' couch gag from March 2015 in which the family looks at 'Simpsons'-themed works of modern art. (image via This Episode/Tumblr)
A ‘Simpsons’ couch gag from March 2015 in which the family looks at ‘Simpsons’-themed works of modern art, including a Lichtenstein (far left). (image via This Episode/Tumblr)

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4Two paintings worth a total of $400,000, including a piece by Roy Lichtenstein, were stolen during a robbery at Malibu’s Sam Simon Foundation, the charitable organization of the recently deceased co-creator of The Simpsons, Sam Simon. The foundation’s main activity is rescuing shelter dogs and training them to be helpers for the disabled.

Verdict: Hopefully they’ve got someone sharper than Chief Wiggum investigating this despicable crime.

Still Waiting for van Gogh Dough

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3A US trust that sold the Vincent van Gogh painting “Cows in a Meadow” for £380,000 (~$570,000) at Sotheby’s last year is suing the British art dealer who brokered the sale, Timothy Sammons, and his namesake New York-based art agency, for failing to pay it the full remittance from the sale.

Verdict: Withholding auction sale proceeds is a definite no-Gogh.

Greedy Gallerist’s Plea Bargain Blocked

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Monroe County Court Judge Melchor Castro rejected a plea bargain in the case of Rochester art dealer Steven Argento, who is accused of stealing $92,000 from philanthropist Greg Polisseni. According to the bargain, Argento would have pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor identity theft, and gone scot-free. “What bothers me is he’s willing to say, ‘I’m guilty,’ and take no punishment,” Castro said. “He’s going to walk out of here, go have a beer at the bar tonight and tell people, ‘Guess what I just pulled off?’”

Verdict: Cheers to Judge Castro for not only making the right decision in rejecting the plea bargain, but also for his 100% accurate description of what most people would do after stealing $92,000, getting caught, and not serving any time.

Book Alleging Art Theft Censored

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2The International Court of Justice in the Hague ordered The Pawning: Art Disappears Where Rabo Appears to be removed from bookshelves after the Dutch bank Radobank alleged that the book claimed two employees of its Special Cases department had stolen artworks. The bank is also suing the book’s authors.

Verdict: When you sue authors of a book nobody has heard about or read, more people will hear about and read it.

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