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.
Museum’s Photo Contest Is a Whale of a #FAIL
The Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum has canceled its annual photography award after this year’s judge, photographer Keiko Fujii, selected a picture of a man standing triumphantly atop the corpse of a beached whale as the winner. In her defense, Fujii said she didn’t realize the whale was dead and thought the man had courageously climbed atop a living beached whale.
Verdict: This seems obvious, but apparently it bears repeating — climbing on top of animals to pose for a photo is never a good idea, whether the animal be living or just in mortal danger.
Burglars Behind Blockbuster Heist Busted
Twelve suspects — three Italians and nine Moldovans — have been arrested for allegedly carrying off the theft of 17 paintings valued at €15 million (~$16.6 million) from the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona last November. The stolen paintings, which include works by Jacopo Bellini, Peter Paul Rubens, and Jacopo Tintoretto, have been located and are in the process of being recovered.
Verdict: Italian and Moldovan art thieves could learn a thing or two from their American brethren.
Czechs Turn Up Nazis’ Trove of Norwegian Witch Books
Thousands of books believed to document Medieval witch trials in Norway, which were stolen from the library of the Norwegian Order of Freemasons in Oslo during World War II at the order of SS leader Heinrich Himmler, were found in a warehouse near Prague. Himmler is believed to have stolen the books as part of a project to gather evidence to support a theory that the persecution of alleged witches during the Middle Ages was actually a conspiracy by the Roman Catholic Church to wipe out the German race.
Verdict: You know your persecution complex has gotten out of hand when it revolves around Medieval witch hunts.
Feds Acquire More Loot at Asia Week Sales
Agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, and officers from Customs and Border Protection picked up more illegally excavated and looted antiquities during New York’s Asia Week sales (see Crimes of the Art #54), seizing three sculptures worth a total of $1 million in a raid on Nancy Wiener Gallery and recovering a 2nd-century Bodhisattva schist head valued at several hundred thousand dollars that was destined for the auction block.
Verdict: Maybe Asia Week should rebrand as an anti-looting art fair for government agencies.
Vandals Are Catching Up with Kardashian
A mural in Melbourne by the street artist Lushsux of a Kim Kardashian nude selife posted to Instagram has been vandalized with splashes of paint, the word “SLUT,” and, after it was repainted, the phrase “No Fat Chicks.”
Verdict: The empowering message of Kardashian’s original post was evidently lost on these vandals.
Thieves Rob Ripley’s — Believe It!
The branch of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in Manhattan’s Times Square was recently visited by some sticky-fingered tourists who made off with a baseball bat used by Joe DiMaggio in 1941 — which they replaced with a fake one — baseballs signed by DiMaggio and Ted Williams, and two shrunken heads from an Amazon tribe.
Verdict: Ripley’s staff doesn’t think the items were stolen by the same person, but what’s so improbable about an enthusiast of Amazonian tribal rituals who also happens to be a Yankees fan?
Art School Gets an Advanced Degree in Planning Violations
The Planning Commission of San Francisco has given the for-profit Academy of Art University (AAU) until July 1 to address the innumerable code violations it has accrued at its properties over the past decade. For just one building, which is zoned for industrial use but which the AAU illegally converted into classrooms, the university has racked up fines totaling nearly $500,000. The university has received violations or fines for over three quarters of the 40 properties it owns.
Verdict: Just because artists are known to bend zoning and planning rules doesn’t mean art school should do the same.
American Tourist Really Digs Historic Cave
A 19-year-old tourist from the US was apprehended after he spent a night illegally digging in Zedekiah’s Cave in the Old City of Jerusalem in search of its allegedly buried treasure. The teenaged looter had spent a whole night excavating the cave and was found with several archaeological objects loaded into his backpack.
Verdict: In the scheme of risks one runs trying to dig up legendary treasure — pirates, curses, booby traps — police detainment doesn’t sound so bad.
Guggenheim Museum Union Rallies at VIP Opening
The museum’s commitment to diversity in exhibitions rings hollow to workers who say they are not receiving a fair wage.
Special Edition: 🖌️Artists’ Signatures ✍️
In this special edition, we investigate what artists’ signatures actually mean, and the fascinating results reveal the multifaceted history of this curious phenomenon.
The Public Theater Explores the Hurricane Katrina Diaspora in shadow/land
Written by Erika Dickerson-Despenza and directed by Candis C. Jones, this lyrical meditation on legacy, erotic fugitivity, and self-determination is on view in NYC.
What Is a Signature in the Internet Age?
As a cryptographic unit for record-keeping, an NFT can be seen as analogous to a signature or an autograph.
The Meaning of Ancient Greek and Roman Artisan Signatures
What did a signature mean in the ancient world, and how much can we trust what they seem to tell us?
The Rubin Museum Presents Death Is Not the End
Tibetan Buddhist and Christian works of art made across 12 centuries explore death, the afterlife, and the desire to continue to exist. On view in NYC.
Michelangelo’s Signature and the Myth of Genius
Michelangelo served as a stellar example for future artists who sought status and economic independence.
Uncovering the Photographer Behind Arshile Gorky’s Most Famous Painting
As we pursue photographer Hovhannes Avedaghayan a fascinating picture begins to emerge of him and the world of which he was part.
When I Am Empty Please Dispose of Me Properly
Ayanna Dozier, Ilana Harris-Babou, Meena Hasan, Lucia Hierro, Catherine Opie, Chuck Ramirez, and Pacifico Silano explore the myths of the American Dream at Brooklyn’s BRIC House.
100 Years of Artist Signatures in a Detroit Club
The beams in Detroit’s Scarab Club act as a guest book of sorts, carrying a wealth of stories and history, including signatures by Diego Rivera, Marcel Duchamp, Margaret Bourke-White, Isamu Noguchi, and others.
The Myth of Agency Around Artists’ Signatures
In an art world built on shifting sands, artists’ signatures become symbols of agency for some, and relics of the past for others.
Pratt’s 2023 Fine Arts MFA Thesis Exhibition Is On View in Brooklyn
The two-part exhibition features the work of 41 graduating artists across disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and integrated practices.
The Women Artists Commemorated on an NYC Sidewalk
The signatures of Rosa Bonheur, Mary Cassatt, and six other historical women artists are engraved on a small stretch of sidewalk on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Met Museum Repatriates 15 Objects to India
The sculptures were all at one point sold by the disgraced art dealer Subhash Kapoor.