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.
Jail for British Burglary Ring
Fourteen men have been convicted for their roles in an organized crime ring that carried out robberies at several British museums and an auction house between November 2011 and April 2012. The men stole Chinese artifacts said to collectively be worth as much as £57 million ($79.6 million).
Verdict: If only these desperate men had put their energy toward a more noble money-making scheme, like the lads in The Full Monty.
Christie’s Sues Megacollector Over Unpaid Basquiat Bill
Auction house Christie’s has filed a lawsuit against collector Jose Mugrabi for failing to make two payments on a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting he bought at auction in May 2015 for $37 million. Since making an initial payment of $5 million for the 1981 painting, “The Field Next to the Other,” Mugrabi has failed to make two consecutive payments that were due January 4 and February 15.
Verdict: If he really can’t make his payments, I’m sure Christie’s will happily sell a few of his 800 Warhols for him.
NYPD Seizes Crate of “Art,” Get 193 Bags of Weed
Officers of the New York Police Department’s Manhattan North Narcotics unit, acting on a tip, intercepted two large crates — one labeled “art” and the other labeled “auto parts” — only to find that they collectively contained about $1 million worth of marijuana.
Verdict: Clever dealers — the art market is less closely regulated than the drug market.
Dealer Keeps the Big Bucks and the Botero
Singapore art dealer Jasmine Tay admitted that she kept $1.6 million that the Indonesian billionaire Dato Sri Tahir had given her for a Fernando Botero sculpture after the sale was called off.
Verdict: Hard to say which was more inflated — the Botero sculpture or its $1.6 million price tag.
City Buffs Street Art It Commissioned
The municipality of Reims commissioned French street artist Christian Guemy (aka C215) to create a small mural in the city, but nobody alerted the anti-graffiti unit, which swiftly erased the painting of a crouching boy. Guemy will return to Reims to create more work in the coming days.
Verdict: Good inter-agency communication is essential to a thriving public art program — not to mention, you know, running a city.
Art Thieves Get Takeout from Indian Restaurant
A six-foot-tall brass statue of Ganesha weighing between 285 and 400 pounds was sawed off its base in front of Ottawa’s East India Company restaurant and whisked away. The restaurant’s manager, Anish Mehra, says the sculpture is worth $5,000 and was likely stolen to be sold for scrap.
Verdict: The thieves would do well to heed the Hindu god of wisdom’s teachings and return his statue.
Illegal Diggers Discovered in the Act
Two men were arrested as they made illegal excavations at the ancient Roman site of Ratiaria in northwestern Bulgaria. The site was a thriving city from the 3rd to the 5th centuries CE, when it was the capital of the Roman province of Dacia Ripensis.
Verdict: The punishment should fit the crime — 1,000 hours each of assisting archaeologists at the site in legal excavations.
Greek Antiquities Ring Busted
Three men were arrested in Athens after raids on their apartments turned up stashes of antiquities collectively worth €1 million ($1.1 million). The artifacts, which included a marble torso from the Hellenistic period and ancient jewelry and coins, are believed to have been obtained during illegal excavations and destined for the black market.
Verdict: February was a bad month for nefarious archaeologists.
Caped Thief Takes the Window
A 700-year-old stained glass window, recently restored thanks to £10,000 (~$14,000) raised by the local community in Cambridgeshire, England, was stolen from the St Mary and St Michael Church. Security camera footage shows a person in a black cape repeatedly entering and leaving the church the night before the theft was discovered.
Verdict: A note to all aspiring art thieves — wearing a cap will make you look more suspicious, not less.
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.