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Ibrahim Mahama in his installation “Civil Occupation” at Ellis King in 2014 (photo by @jonathanellisking/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.

Artist and Dealers Split on Plan to Divide and Sell Installation

Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama is countersuing the art dealers Stefan Simchowitz and Jonathan Ellis King (who filed a lawsuit against Mahama last year) over their plans to break apart “Civil Occupation,” a room-size installation he created out of the sacks used to transport coal in Ghana, and sell it as pieces. Mahama alleges that they’re violating a contract they signed to neither alter nor sell his works as well as the Visual Artists Rights Act. In their 2015 lawsuit, the dealers claimed that Mahama had agreed to their plan for selling “Civil Occupation.”

Verdict: If you ask me, this sounds more like an “Uncivil Occupation.”

Former Pompidou Boss Pumped Public for Cab Fare

Agnès Saal, the former managing director of the Centre Pompidou and director of France’s National Audiovisual Insitute, pleaded guilty to misuse of public funds after racking up a €40,000 (~$45,500) cab bill over the course of 10 months, €6,700 (~$7,600) of which was for her son’s taxi trips.

Verdict: At least she didn’t try to blame it on surge pricing.

Art Prof a Grade-A Creep

Four former students of artist and New York Academy of Art (NYAA) department chair Wade Schuman claim in a lawsuit that he insulted, threatened, and harassed them. The NYAA has denied all the allegations against Schuman.

Verdict: What does Schuman think this is, Art School Confidential?

Flying Saucer Thief Grounded

Still from security camera footage of the International UFO Museum and Research Center flying saucer heist (screenshot by the author via Facebook)

Seventeen-year-old Newman Seely of Roswell, New Mexico, has been arrested for the theft of a steel and fiberglass sculpture of a flying saucer that formerly adorned the exterior of the International UFO Museum and Research Center (see Crimes of the Art #56). “He declined to say anything about the motive for the spaceship theft,” the Roswell Police Department wrote on Facebook. Two other perpetrators of the crime remain at large.

Verdict: Seely’s motive seems self-evident — interplanetary travel.

Artist’s Heirs Claim Museum’s Painting Is Fake

The family of late Korean artist Chun Kyung-ja is suing the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art for claiming that a work in its collection, “Beautiful Woman,” is an authentic piece by Chun; before her death in 2015, the artist had publicly stated that the work was a fake. The disputed piece came from a collection owned by Kim Jae-gyu, the director of Korea’s national intelligence agency who assassinated President Park Chung-hee in 1979.

Verdict: Who wouldn’t do the same if, say, their art (or their parent’s) had been collected by Lee Harvey Oswald?

Man and Museum Fight for Confederate Coat

An Alabama man is seeking to have himself declared the rightful owner of Confederate Army Captain William Lyman’s coat — which he bought at a Civil War memorabilia convention in 2009 for $44,500 — after the Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans contacted him, claiming that the item had been stolen from the museum sometime prior to 1990. The coat was tailored by a blind woman from Virginia using handmade jeans, and Lyman himself donated it to the museum after the war, according to the president of Memorial Hall Museum Inc., which runs the museum.

Verdict: Haven’t these folks ever heard of joint custody? The man gets to keep the coat, but he has to wear it to the museum every day and speak to visitors about its significance.

Orphan Statue Orphaned

One of the two statues of orphans that had been standing outside the Louisiana Orphan Train Museum (LOTM) in Opelousas was cut at its feet and stolen. The LOTM is one of two institutions in the country commemorating the Orphan Train program, which operated from 1873 to 1929 and relocated New York City’s homeless children to rural communities around the US.

Verdict: Perhaps the thief will return the orphan statue to New York — I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up as part of a street art installation on the Lower East Side.

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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...

One reply on “Crimes of the Art”

  1. Your damning comments in the “Verdict:” section indicate that either you know a lot more about these incidents that the article itself would indicate or you are quite eager to jump to conclusions. While that might seem like snarky fun, it does make doubt the actual content.

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