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.
Refugees Reject Banksy’s “Dismal Aid”
Following the dismantling of his theme park exhibition Dismaland in the UK, street artist Banksy sent the materials to be used for construction at the so-called Jungle camp in Calais, France. But residents of the makeshift refugee camp rejected his gesture as a publicity stunt, dismantling his “Dismaland” sign — which had been reconfigured to spell “Dismal aid,” a reference to European governments’ lack of response to the migrant crisis — shortly after it was assembled.
Verdict: Surely, someone so rich and influential could have mustered more resources than some scrap wood.
“Lucky Luke” Unlucky in Art Fraud
Former San Francisco real estate tycoon “Lucky Luke” Brugnara has been sentenced to seven years in federal prison for art fraud after he received shipment of millions of dollars worth of art — including works by Joan Miró, Willem de Kooning, and a bronze casting of Edgar Degas’s “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” (1878–81) — but refused to pay for the pieces. While most of the artwork has been recovered, the Degas sculpture is still missing.
Verdict: Sounds like Lucky Luke’s luck finally ran out.
Is Hobby Lobby Looty?
Federal authorities are investigating the family that owns the Hobby Lobby chain of art supply stores for buying hundreds of clay tablets suspected of having been looted from Iraq for their planned Museum of the Bible.
Verdict: Is anyone actually surprised? Pillaging foreign lands is a Christian tradition that goes back centuries.
Museum Worker Trashes Trashy Art
A cleaner at the Museion Bozen-Bolzano in Italy threw out “Where shall we go dancing tonight?,” a work by the Milanese duo Goldschmied and Chiari, after mistaking the installation of cigarette butts, confetti, streamers, and empty alcohol bottles for the remnants of a party. Luckily, the materials were salvaged and, with the artists’ approval, the museum was able to reinstall the piece.
Verdict: Oh, Italy — where contemporary art is preemptively trashed and old art is left to rot.
This Fragonard’s a Goner
A number of works on view at the Musée Fragonard in Grasse in the South of France, including a painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard himself, have been vandalized on at least two separate occasions with ballpoint pens, markers, and even had holes poked in their canvases.
Verdict: One would think museum visitors in Grasse would behave a little more grassefully.
Tribal Totem Returned After Hollywood and Honolulu Sojourns
A totem pole that was stolen from an abandoned Alaskan village by actor John Barrymore in 1931 has been returned to members of the Tlingit tribe by the Honolulu Museum of Art — in whose storage it has been held since 1981, when its second famous owner, Vincent Price, donated it to the institution.
Verdict: Is it really so surprising that the man who once played Captain Ahab sailed up the Alaskan coast pillaging villages from the deck of his yacht?
Creep Tags Ancient Sheep
California man Christopher Harp faces up to 10 years in federal prison for drunkenly spray painting the words “blow jobs 24-7” and his place of employment’s phone number on an ancient rock carving depicting a bighorn sheep in Sequoia National Forest.
Verdict: Friends don’t let friends drink and tag.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.