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.
Pigs Skewer Bacon Hogs
Police in Spain have arrested seven people who were allegedly involved in the theft of five Francis Bacon paintings worth a total of $27.8 million. The heist, from the Madrid home of a collector who is said to have been a close friend of Bacon’s, occurred in June of 2015 but was not made public until earlier this year (see Crimes of the Art #54). Those arrested include a Madrid art dealer and his son.
Verdict: $27.8 million for those?! They look more like police sketch artist drawings than Francis Bacons.
Whoooo, Whoooo Stole a Picasso Owl Vase?
A 10-inch vase in the shape of an owl by Pablo Picasso was stolen from ACA Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea gallery district. The 1955 ceramic sculpture was said to be worth roughly $30,000.
Verdict: To paraphrase a classic Twin Peaks line: The owl is not where it was last seen.
Guillotine Sculpture Gone
“Whimsical Metal Sculpture,” a 150-pound, eight-foot-tall statue of a guillotine that artist John Jackson made in 2011 and installed in his front yard in Jefferson, New York, was recently stolen in the night. “What’s the world coming to when you can’t even have a non-functioning guillotine in your yard without someone taking it?” Johnson asked the Daily Star. “It’s very disconcerting.”
Verdict: As Johnson suggests, guillotine theft is a sure sign that our society is losing its head.
Hacker Who Made Dubya’s Paintings Public Pleads Guilty
Romanian hacker Marcel “Guccifer” Lazar, best known for revealing former US president George W. Bush‘s mediocre painting practice to the world, pleaded guilty to unauthorized computer access and aggravated identity theft for hacking the Bush family’s accounts in 2013. He will serve at least two years, but may be sentenced to as many as seven.
Verdict: Bush should paint Guccifer’s portrait as consolation.
Tsk Tsk for Christie’s Tusk Sale
Auction house Christie’s was fined £3,250 (~$4,710) for selling a silver-mounted elephant tusk last year in London, without the proper documentation in compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The 63-year-old owner of the tusk who consigned it for sale was also charged in the incident.
Verdict: When King Babar needs to sell off some court portraits to replenish the Elephant Kingdom coffers, he clearly won’t be calling up Christie’s — elephants never forget.
Petty Vandalism Points to Institutional Discrimination
Two 800-year-old stencil paintings in Tasmania’s Nirmena Nala Cave were destroyed by vandals, prompting Aboriginal leaders to demand tougher laws protecting Aboriginal patrimony. The maximum punishment for such acts, under Australia’s Aboriginal Relics Act, is six months in jail or a $1,500 fine, while similar destruction of heritage from the colonial period onward can result in fines of up to $1.54 million.
Verdict: A thousand-fold discrepancy in vandalism fines is an exceptionally glaring instance of systemic racism, even by Australian standards.
Ace in the Hole
Douglas Chrismas, the founder of Los Angeles’s Ace Gallery, has been fired by Sam Leslie, the accountant who recently took over running the gallery during its bankruptcy proceedings (see Crimes of the Art #60). According to a report filed by Leslie, Chrismas diverted nearly $17 million to mysterious bank accounts and had 60 artworks moved from the gallery into a private storage facility.
Verdict: It sounds like Ace’s king was long overdue for a royal flushing.
Taggers Target Vietnam War Memorial
A mural in Venice, California, commemorating 2,273 soldiers who were either prisoners of war or counted as missing in the Vietnam War was covered in graffiti not long before Memorial Day. The mural was created by artist Peter Stewart and dedicated in 1992.
Verdict: Graffiti artists should really be better versed in the concept of negative brand association; tagging a Vietnam War memorial may be one of the worst ways to get your name out there.