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.
Saudi School’s Rainbow Mural Buffed
Threatened with a $25,000 fine, the Talaee Al-Noor International School in Riyadh painted over a rainbow mural on the exterior of its building. Saudi Arabia’s Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which enforces Islamic law in the country, reportedly deemed the painted rainbows “emblems of homosexuality.” The school staff member behind the mural has been jailed and is awaiting trial.
Verdict: Who gets fined and jailed when rainbows appear in the Saudi sky?
Librarian Checked Out Masterpieces
The former chief librarian at a gallery of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Xiao Yuan, confessed that between 2004 and 2006 he stole 143 paintings by famous Chinese artists — including pieces by Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian, and Zhu Da — from the gallery and replaced them with fakes he had painted. Between 2004 and 2011 he managed to sell 125 of the original paintings at auction, making over $5 million from the sales.
Verdict: Xiao’s actions may have been dishonest, but his output is impressive — 143 paintings in three years, while holding down a full-time job!
Art Fraudster Slow to Pay Back Victims
Leigh Morse, who was convicted for her role in her former boss Lawrence Salander’s $120-million art fraud scheme in 2011, has been ordered to pay back the $1.65 million she owes to the collectors she duped. To date Morse has only returned $90,000 to her victims; she claims to be so poor now that she shops at Kmart and doesn’t even have cable television anymore. A prosecutor suggested that selling her homes in Manhattan and Pennsylvania might help her pay back her victims.
Verdict: Going without cable television seems like an outdated measure of financial hardship. Call us when she cancels her Netflix streaming subscription.
Aussie Curator Admits Abuse
John Buckley, the former director of the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art and the Brisbane Institute of Modern Art, has admitted he sexually abused six boys aged 10 to 13 three decades ago, when he was a teacher and house master at the Geelong Grammar School near Melbourne.
Verdict: That’s absolutely reprehensible.
Russian Jewish Museum Director Shot
Sergei Ustinov, the founder and director of Moscow’s Museum of Jewish History in Russia, was shot in the neck outside the institution by a lone assailant who then fled. Ustinov is in critical but stable condition. The weapon used was a sawed-off Osa pistol, which is typically reserved for firing flares and blanks; as the Times of Israel points out, “Classified as a ‘non-lethal handgun,’ it is not commonly used in assassinations.”
Verdict: In Putin’s Russia, flare guns fire you!
Muncie Shiva’s Less-Than-Divine Provenance
A small bronze statue of Shiva at the David Owsley Museum of Art at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, may be one of the countless looted artifacts sold to unsuspecting museums by convicted New York City dealer Subhash Kapoor. The museum acquired the object from Kapoor in 2005; at the time the dealer provided provenance documents seemingly going back to 1969.
Verdict: We’re going to be hearing stories about suspect Subhash Kapoor acquisitions for years.