Elton John's glasses in their display case at the Rock 'n' Soul Museum (photo via Facebook)

Elton John’s glasses in their display case at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (photo via Facebook)

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.

Sir Elton’s Spectacles Swiped


Elton John’s signature heart-shaped glasses were stolen from their display case at the Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum in Memphis. The boosted bifocals were on loan to the institution and had been insured for $2,000.

Verdict: It seems to me you lived your life like glasses in a museum.

The Prince Stays in the Picture


Hollywood talent agent and art collector Michael Ovitz filed a lawsuit against insurance giant AIG and its subsidiary Chartis claiming he is entitled to $2.5 million from the loss of two Richard Prince paintings. The artworks, “Untitled” and “Nobody’s Home,” were both insured and allegedly stolen from the collector by embattled art dealer Perry Rubenstein.

Verdict: $2.5 million for two lost Prince paintings? Sounds like an insurance scam.

Gun Sculpture Shot Down


Artist Margarita Cabrera is threatening to sue the City of El Paso for dismantling and removing her public sculpture “UPLIFT” — which it commissioned her to make in 2012 — mid-installation last month. The city claimed the project’s abrupt cancellation was due to unforeseen structural problems with the sculpture, but Cabrera alleges that the work was censored because it incorporated parts of guns confiscated by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department, a fact she had made clear in her original proposal.

Verdict: The city evidently wasn’t prepared for such a loaded sculpture.

From Russia with Twerk

YouTube video

Five of the six women who perform in a dance video shot in front of a World War II memorial in Novorossiysk, Russia, were convicted of hooliganism for their irreverent twerking — two were sentenced to 10 days in jail, one was given a 15-day sentence, and two others were fined.

Verdict: First punk rock, now twerking. What will Russia outlaw as hooliganism next, the Macarena?

Crossing Borders with Loot in the Boot


Soeun Oeun, an intelligence officer in the Cambodian military police, was detained shortly after driving across the border into Thailand when soldiers found three Buddhist statues in the back of his car. He is being held on suspicion of involvement with an antiquities looting ring.

Verdict: Next time, try strapping the looted statues into seat belts and dressing them up as passengers.

Workers in Glass Cases Shouldn’t Throw Stupas


A votive stupa from the 1st century CE at the Indian Museum in Kolkata was damaged when workers from the National Building Construction Corporation (NBCC) accidentally broke its glass display case, sending shards falling onto the artifact. The NBCC employees had been doing maintenance work on the display case, even though the company’s contract with the museum had expired on March 31 and they were no longer authorized to be working in the museum.

Verdict: Someone should have issued NBCC a “Stupa Work Order.”

Basquiat Boosted in Breakup


The company that owns the Jean-Michel Basquiat painting “Wine of Babylon” is suing the Croatian singer and actress Rita Rusic for allegedly stealing it from her ex-husband Vittorio Cecchi Gori when they split. Gori bought the work for $330,000 in 1988, assigned it to G&G Productions, and kept it in the house where he lived with Rusic in Rome.

Verdict: Maybe Rusic and Gori can reach some sort of joint custody agreement.

Hot Hay Sculpture Not a Hit

(screenshot via Twitter)

(screenshot via Twitter)


Bruce Cook, the owner of the Kactus Point Charolais farm in rural Crossover in the Australian state of Victoria, has been ordered by police to dismantle a sculpture of a bull mounting a cow that he made from bales of hay. Though police allegedly received complaints claiming that the sculpture is “offensive and obscene,” Cook says he and his bovine artwork have received enormous public support.

Verdict: Puritanical prairie prudes need a hobby.

Robbers Return Maori Loot


Fourteen 19th-century Maori artifacts that were stolen during the burglary of a home in the small town of Hastings in northeastern New Zealand were mysteriously returned to the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington.

Verdict: Maybe this “robbery” was actually a very dramatic way of gifting the artifacts to the national museum.

Clueless Art Fraudster Also Shoeless


Luke Brugnara, who stands accused of fraud for arranging to buy and then refusing to pay for artworks by Joan Miró, Willem de Kooning, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso, appeared in court on the first day of jury selection wearing prison-issued sandals, prompting a highly entertaining conversation with US District Judge William Alsup.

Verdict: Courtroom television would be a lot more fun to watch if every defendant’s introduction ended with the phrase “appearing without shoes.”

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...