Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

One of the head sculptures stolen from from the exhibition ‘For Richer, for Poorer, for Better, for Worse’ by Samuel Wyer and Laura Drake Chambers at the Latitude Festival (photo by @always_traveling/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.

Artists Lose Their Heads

Fourteen sculptures of grimacing golden heads on stakes by artists Samuel Wyer and Laura Drake Chambers that were installed in Faraway Forest as part of the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, England, were stolen. Valued at £5,000 (~$7,800), they were allegedly taken by “a large group of young children and two adults” that used electric tools to remove them.

Verdict: Art theft is already a despicable crime, but roping children into the act marks a new low.

Gallery Hooked on Stealing Art

Dozens of artists claim that Kansas City’s Hook Gallery has been using their work in its “BYOB Painting Parties,” teaching attendees to reproduce their original works without giving them any credit or payment for their original paintings.

Verdict: Hook Gallery had better schedule some Bring-Your-Own-Lawyer parties.

Mayor Used Public Money in Fantasy Museum Acquisition Spree

Stephen Reed, the former mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has been charged with nearly 500 criminal counts for using public funds to buy thousands of artifacts, purportedly to display in a series of museums he planned to open devoted to the Wild West, sports, African American history, and other subjects. A recent raid of Reed’s office turned up 12 rooms piled to the ceilings with the illegally purchased artifacts and a full-scale recreation of his mayoral office.

Verdict: Classic case of putting the cart before the horse, except the cart is jam-packed with artifacts purchased illegally with taxpayers’ money.

Thief Blames Theft on Museum

Daniel Jude Witek, a former volunteer at the Buffalo History Museum — from which he is accused of stealing dozens of letters by Anson Goodyear — is claiming in his defense that he shouldn’t be blamed for taking advantage of the museum’s incredibly lax security protocol. “This is an institution that has had massive problems with theft, inventory control and security going back 50 years,” he told the Buffalo News.

Verdict: Witek gives museum volunteers everywhere a bad name.

Goethe Bust Goes Missing

The bronze bust of Goethe that recently went missing in Rochester (photo by @liza_bryte_eyes/Instagram)

A bronze bust of the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was stolen from Highland Park in Rochester, New York. The sculpture, by German artist William Ehrich, was unveiled in 1950 to commemorate Goethe’s 200th anniversary.

Verdict: The Goethe thieves have unwittingly made a Faustian bargain with Rochester Police.

Chainsaw Sculptor’s Tools Taken

Celebrated chainsaw artist Brian “Ackmonster” Ackley was robbed of $10,000 worth of art-making equipment, including 10 chainsaws, several drills, a generator, a wood grinder, and other items. In the wake of the theft from his home in New Jersey, the chainsaw sculpture community has come to Ackley’s aid, loaning him equipment and launching a GoFundMe campaign to help him replace the stolen tools.

Verdict: Police are on the prowl for the thieves, but apparently nobody saw them.

The Riddle of the Stolen Penis Carvings

Joseph Wayne Riddle and Rindi Dakota Riddle have been arrested under suspicion of stealing a pair of ancient Chinese ivory penis carvings from Sweeten Creek Antiques and Collectibles in Asheville, North Carolina. The carvings were valued at $6,090.

Verdict: Gives new meaning to the expression “sticky-fingered.”

The Latest


Benjamin Sutton

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...