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Crimes of the Art

Jeff Koons, "I Could Go for Something Gordon's" (1986) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Jeff Koons, “I Could Go For Something Gordon’s” (1986) (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

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.

Koons Sued for Taking Shot of Gin

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Photographer Mitchel Gray is suing Jeff Koons for using an image he shot for a Gordon’s Dry Gin advertisement in 1986 in the painting “I Could Go For Something Gordon’s,” part of Koons’s series of appropriated ads, Luxury and Degradation. Gray, who only learned of the offending piece in July, is seeking unspecified and punitive damages, as well as any profits Koons derived from the work.

Verdict: Will Gray v. Koons be the next Cariou v. Prince?

ISIS Prisoners Forced to Smash Graves

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4Captives held by ISIS in Mosul are being made to vandalize the city’s cemeteries, smashing graves and tombstones. The bizarre form of punishment appears to be the latest front in the group’s campaign to eradicate any signs of any way of worshiping other than its own.

Verdict: What grave news.

Art Thief Tags Artist in Pic of Purloined Pieces

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1Daniel Arsham called out a fan who stole several of his small chalk sculptures from his recent show in Miami and then uploaded a photo of the loot to Instagram, tagging Arsham in the post.

Verdict: Chalk it up to yet another thing ruined by social media — art thievery.

Museum Membership Services Worker Does Some Self-Service

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1An employee at Chicago’s Field Museum stole $900,000 over the course of seven years while selling memberships at the institution’s entrance. The (now former) employee is being investigated by federal authorities.

Verdict: Upon discovering the theft in 2014, the Field Museum put the worker out to pasture.

Crooks Steal 30 Artworks in Markus Lüpertz Studio Break-in

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Thieves broke into artist Markus Lüpertz‘s studio outside Berlin and made off with some 30 artworks — including paintings, prints, and drawings. Lüpertz estimated the combined value of the lost work to be over $1 million.

Verdict: Good luck unloading those lifted Lüpertzes — no auction house or secondary market gallery will dare touch them.

Nicolas Cage to Hand Over Stolen Tyrannosaurus Skull

Actor and dinosaur fossil collector Nicolas Cage in a scene from 'Face/Off' (screenshot by the author via YouTube)
Actor and dinosaur fossil collector Nicolas Cage in a scene from ‘Face/Off’ (screenshot by the author via YouTube)

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Actor Nicolas Cage has agreed to turn over the fossilized skull of a Tyrannosaurus bataar that he bought from a Beverly Hills gallery in 2007 for $276,000, after it was determined that it had been stolen from Mongolia. He will hand it over to the Department of Homeland Security, which will see to the skull’s safe return.

Verdict: Good thing Cage didn’t insist on hanging onto Mongolia’s national treasure, otherwise there might’ve been a face-off.

Antiquities Dealer Dealt House Arrest

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4Munich-based antiquities dealer Leonardo Patterson, who has been in trouble with the FBI, Interpol, and other agencies in the past for allegedly dealing in forged and looted artifacts, was sentenced to three years of home confinement and probation, along with a fine of about $40,000, and ordered to return two authentic Olmec carvings to Mexico.

Verdict: Patterson’s activities read like fiction (if only they were!) — this passage is particularly excellent:

In 1984, the F.B.I. charged him with trying to sell a fake Mayan fresco to a dealer in Boston. A year later, while on probation, he was arrested at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and later convicted of illegally importing a pre-Columbian ceramic figure dated between A.D. 650 and A.D. 850. He also had with him 36 sea turtle eggs in violation of an international endangered species convention — items he claimed were part of his health diet.

Antiquities Dealer Duo Dealt Probation

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Former antiquities dealer Jonathan Markell was sentenced to 18 months in jail for making false declarations when importing artifacts from Southeast Asia. Both he and his wife, Cari, were sentenced to probation for a tax evasion ploy in which they donated looted objects to museums to obtain tax write-offs. (Their donations resulted in raids on 13 museums in January 2008, including LACMA, the Pacific Asia Museum, and the Bowers Museum.)

Verdict: Couples that evade taxes together stay together — that is, until one of them gets sent to jail for tax evasion.

Collector Sues Native American Artifacts Dealer

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Collector Reuben Setliff is suing dealer Larry Belitz for allegedly swindling him out of $421,000 for artifacts that Belitz claimed had belonged to Sitting Bull, Lone Bull, Crazy Horse, and other Native American heroes. Setliff says they’re inauthentic.

Verdict: Sounds like Belitz’s stories about Lone Bull and Sitting Bull were a load of bull.

Artist’s Foundation Flipflops on Painting’s Authenticity

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2Collector Richard Fisher sued the Petr Konchalovsky Foundation for declaring in 2012 that a Konchalovsky painting he had bought from Sotheby’s in 1991 — when the foundation deemed it authentic — was actually inauthentic. Fisher, who had planned to consign the painting to Sotheby’s to resell it, says he was cheated out of $800,000 because of the foundation’s declaration.

Verdict: The Petr Konchalovsky Foundation is giving artist foundation authentication boards a bad name.

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