A Starbucks Mini Frappuccino decorated with elements that artist Maya Hayuk claims were taken from her own work. (photo by @Frappuccino/Instagram)

A Starbucks Mini Frappuccino cup decorated with elements that artist Maya Hayuk claims were taken from her work without her permission. (photo via @Frappuccino/Instagram)

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.

Artist Sues Starbucks in Frappuccino Fracas


Brooklyn muralist Maya Hayuk is suing Starbucks, claiming the company stole elements of her paintings to create the branding for its “Mini Frappuccinos.” Though the coffee giant originally approached Hayuk to collaborate on the project, when she turned down the offer she claims they went ahead with their plan, commissioning Seattle artist Jordan Kay to create imagery strikingly similar to her own. She’s seeking unspecified cash damages and $750,000 in copyright compensations.

Verdict: Further proof that Frappuccinos, mini or otherwise, are evil.

Crooked Cornwall Dealer Fesses Up to Fakes


David Carter, a gallerist in Cornwall, copped to seven counts of fraud for buying paintings online and then passing them off as original works by outsider artist Alfred Wallis and Pre-Raphaelite John Brett. Carter now faces jail time and will be sentenced on July 16.

Verdict: Peddling fake outsider art is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit of art fraud.

Cady Noland Cuts Down Restored “Log Cabin”


The artist Cady Noland denounced collector Scott Mueller’s plan to restore her only outdoor sculpture without consulting her and disowned the work, “Log Cabin Blank with Screw Eyes and Café Door (Memorial to John Caldwell)” (1990). Now Mueller is suing Berlin’s Janssen Gallery, dealer Michael Janssen, New York’s Marisa Newman Projects, and German collector Wilhelm Schurmann to recover the $800,000 he has not been repaid since the $1.4 million acquisition went sour.

Verdict: People trying to buy rotting log cabin sculptures shouldn’t throw lawsuits.

All’s Not Well at Alhambra


María del Mar Villafranca, the head of the board of directors at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain’s most-visited tourist site, has been arrested along with three other palace employees and a businessman under suspicion of money laundering and embezzlement. The charges relate to the 2007 awarding of a contract to make the audio guides for the Moorish palace, which receives some 2.4 million visitors every year.

Verdict: Laundering money through audio guides — now that’s novel!

Rubber Duck Artist Fights Unauthorized Philly Fowl

An unauthorized version of Florentijn Hofman's "Rubber Duck" runs aground at Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden. (photo by Moises Figueroa Ramirez/Instagram)

An unauthorized version of Florentijn Hofman’s “Rubber Duck” runs aground at Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden. (photo by Moises Figueroa Ramirez/Instagram)


Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, creator of the beloved floating inflatable sculpture “Rubber Duck,” has denounced the Tall Ships Philadelphia Camden event for reusing a version of his sculpture originally commissioned for Tall Ships Los Angeles — and for which he was never paid — at the Philly festival last weekend. The elements seemed to support the outraged artist, as Philly’s formidable floating fowl was felled by foul weather.

Verdict: Next time you can’t get permission to show Hofman’s duck, inquire after Paul McCarthy’s “Tree.”

Vandals Level Museum’s Native American House


Vandals destroyed a kotcha — a type of tule house inhabited by the Coast Miwok tribe for thousands of years — that was built four years ago on the grounds of the the Museum of American Indians in Novato, California. “It was an important teaching tool for kids,” said museum director Colleen Hicks. “Not all Indians lived in teepees — it’s a stereotype.”

Verdict: If caught, the vandals should be made apprentices to master kotcha builders.

Snake Visitor Makes a Splash at Texas Museum


A worker at the Archer County Museum in Archer City, Texas, was surprised on a recent morning when she discovered a very large snake in one of the museum toilets. Archer City Police and Archer County Sheriff’s Deputies were called to the scene but didn’t know how to proceed; naturally, one of the museum’s trustees is not only a snake expert but a snake merchant, and was able to safely extract the 5’8″ rat snake.

Verdict: Consider starting a snake-charmer-in-residence program.

Cherokee Artist’s Claims Don’t Check Out


Prosecutors claim artist Terry Lee Whetstone has violated a federal law by falsely claiming Cherokee heritage to sell his works as traditional Native American art. Though Whetstone is not a member of the federally recognized Cherokee Nation, he is an enrolled member of the Northern Cherokee Nation, which claims it is recognized by the state of Missouri. Misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and products is a misdemeanor that carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.

Verdict: Claiming Native American heritage when you’re not Native American…

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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...

4 replies on “Crimes of the Art”

  1. Regarding Whetstone’s case—under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, members of either federal or state recognized tribes are able to say they are Native American. The “Northern Cherokee Nation” claims that it is recognized by the State of Missouri, but no independent sources substantiate that claim, so that will probably be discussed in the trial.

    1. Thank you for the note and explanation. We’ll revise the article to make this point clearer.

      1. What’s interesting is that “Chief” Kenn “Grey Elk” DesCombes of the so-called Northern Cherokee Nation doesn’t appear to understand what state-recognition is. Still surprised that this case is going to court.

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