Gilbert, a stolen zebra sculpture, has been returned to Marwell Zoo officials. (screenshot by the author via Facebook)

Gilbert, a stolen zebra sculpture, has been returned to Marwell Zoo officials. (screenshot by the author via Facebook)

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.

Zebra Sculpture Set Loose and Recaptured


A colorful fiberglass statue of a zebra, nicknamed Gilbert, which was touring the UK to promote the Marwell Zoo, was stolen from the back of the truck where it had been strapped overnight in Southampton. Luckily, officers of Hampshire Constabulary spotted Gilbert in someone’s backyard and have returned him, though the circumstances of his disappearance remain under investigation.

Verdict: Better an unscrupulous zebra-lover’s backyard than, say, a storm drain (see Crimes of the Art #37).

Embezzlement Scheme and Lye Attack Force Arts Org’s Folding


Queens-based arts nonprofit the Healing Arts Initiative plans to declare bankruptcy after Kim Williams, one of its accountants, was found to have embezzled $750,000 from the organization and — when its director, Alexandra Dyer, became suspicious — paid a man to attack Dyer with lye.

Verdict: Once bankruptcy proceedings get underway, hopefully, the true healing can begin.

Vandals Bust Ziggy Stardust


A painting of David Bowie by artist John Bulley, based on the cover of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and installed inside a disused telephone booth in Southend-on-Sea, was ripped out of the booth by unknown thieves who smashed the booth’s window panes to gain access to the artwork. “What they have done is very violent,” Bulley, who plans to remake the work, told the Echo. “I suspect that they are Justin Bieber fans and don’t like Bowie.”

Verdict: The vandals’ actions are tantamount to rock ‘n’ roll suicide.

Aussie Dealer and Conservator Found Guilty of Blockbuster Art Fraud


The art dealer Peter Gant and conservator Mohamed Aman Siddique have been convicted of selling three forged paintings that they claimed were the work of the late artist Brett Whiteley for a total of AUD $3.6 million (~USD $2.6 million). The works were painted by Siddique and then passed off as genuine Whiteleys to unsuspecting collectors by Grant.

Verdict: If conservators were paid better — and the art market weren’t an opaque parallel economy where millions trade hands with virtually no oversight — things like this wouldn’t happen.

Much Ado About Murals


Two murals in or near San Francisco’s Mission District have been tagged with exclusionary messages recently. The first target — Josh Talbott’s hyperrealist painting of a hand picking up a marble on Mission Street in College Hill — was defaced with the words “no hipster art”; the second — a series of sea turtles by artist fnnch at the corner of 19th and San Carlos streets — was scrawled with the words “Latino art only.”

Verdict: Perhaps these tags are being misinterpreted, and were in fact intended as warnings that, once the city’s tech takeover is complete, there will be no more spaces for hipster or Latino art.

Conceptual Art Pool Trashed


Artist Alfredo Barsuglia’s conceptual art-cum-treasure hunt swimming pool in the desert in Southern California, “Social Pool,” has been attacked by thieves and/or vandals who have smashed its lid and stolen its solar panel and pump.

Verdict: This is why we can’t have nice things hidden away in the desert — jerks will always find them and break them.

Art Show Has a Martyr Complex


An exhibition due to open later this month in Copenhagen has been accused of encouraging terrorism. The show will include images of two of the terrorists who carried out the Brussels attacks, and one of the men who attacked the Bataclan music venue in Paris last year, as well as historical martyr figures including Joan of Arc and Socrates.

Verdict: When will people learn that inclusion in an exhibition doesn’t necessarily mean something’s being encouraged?

Thieves Check Out Ukraine’s Oldest Printed Book


A 1574 folio of The Apostles printed by early publisher Ivan Fedorov and said to be Ukraine’s first printed book was stolen from the National Library’s rare books department.

Verdict: Though the thieves’ methods are deplorable, their thirst for literature is admirable.

Kids Smash After-School Art Space


A group of 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old schoolchildren smashed art and furniture, ripped open couches, and tore down curtains at the Loughton Youth Project, an after-school space at the Loughton Library.

Verdict: These kids need help, or before long they’ll be smashing art for ISIS.

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...