One of Sun Ping's "sexual calligraphy" videos (screenshot by the author via LiveLeak)

Still from one of Sun Ping’s “sexual calligraphy” videos (screenshot by the author via LiveLeak)

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 Reprimanded for Vaginal Calligraphy Videos


The government-run China Artists Association (CAA) has expelled longtime member Sun Ping over a video in which a female performer creates traditional Chinese calligraphy by using her vagina to control a brush. Though Sun has been staging the so-called “sexual calligraphy” performances for at least a decade, his continuing promotion of the work both domestically and abroad apparently earned him the CAA’s ire.

Verdict: Sun’s vaginal calligraphy may not be very deep, but saying — as the CAA did — that it “wantonly defiled calligraphy and trampled over civilization” might be a slight exaggeration.

$20-Million Trove of Stolen Art Seized


A collection of stolen artworks including 55 paintings — 18 of them by the Turkish artist Nazmi Ziya Güran — were seized by the Istanbul Police Department in a raid on a house in the posh Ataşehir neighborhood. The trove, which also included 18th- and 19th-century paintings by Ottoman artists of Armenian and Greek descent (and five fakes), has been valued at $20 million.

Verdict: Only five fakes in a cache of 55 hot paintings? That’s impressively pedigreed contraband!

Pope’s Blood Disappears


A relic containing a piece of cloth stained with a drop of Pope John Paul II’s blood was stolen from its perch — at the base of a statue of the late pontiff — in Cologne Cathedral. Said cathedral provost Gerd Bachner: “Although the material value is low, the spiritual value is a lot bigger.”

Verdict: Catholic relics disappearing from cathedrals — yet another sign that we’re returning to the Dark Ages.

Court Sinks Burning Man Boat-Bus Captains’ Claims

La Contessa during its Burning Man days (screenshot by the author via Friends of La Contessa/Facebook)

La Contessa during its Burning Man days (screenshot by the author via Friends of La Contessa/Facebook)


La Contessa, a schoolbus retrofitted by Burning Man regulars to resemble a 16th century Spanish galleon, was found by yet another court (following a juried trial and an appeal) to not be art and therefore not protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act. Its builders, artists Simon Cheffins and Gregory Jones, were seeking damages after the owner of the property (Michael Stewart), where La Contessa was moored between Burning Man events, burnt and scrapped the desert vessel. Instead they will have to pay Stewart’s legal fees.

Verdict: Talk about getting burned!

Busted with a Benz-Full of Loot


Issa Najam, a driver for the Norwegian embassy in Israel, was arrested by the Israel Tax Authority and accused of smuggling antiquities — including Hasmonean dynasty coins (circa 2nd–1st century BCE), beads, and statuettes. The stash was found in the panelling of an embassy vehicle as it crossed into Jerusalem from Jordan.

Verdict: Smuggling antiquities is bad enough, but using your day job’s vehicle to do it?! That’s just reckless.

Lee Ufan Forger Has Few Fans


A Seoul art dealer has been indicted for allegedly forging and selling three works by the Korean artist Lee Ufan (see Crimes of the Art #51), netting some $1.1 million in the process. The disgraced gallerist’s partner in the scheme, an antiques dealer who trades between Japan and Korea, is still under investigation. The pair is believed to had produced 50 more forged works.

Verdict: Over $1 million for three pieces? Who knew the demand for Lee’s works was so strong?

Frenzy Over Franz West Estate


The three people on the board of the Franz West Private Foundation, which the estate of the late sculptor, were dismissed by the Austrian Supreme Court for allegedly paying themselves “suspicious” sums. Control of the artist’s estate remains the subject of a legal dispute between the Franz West Private Foundation — which he created five days before his death in 2012 — and the nonprofit Franz West Archive, founded in 2002.

Verdict: Turns out the only thing worse than under-planning an artist’s estate is over-planning it.

Paint-Happy Hiker Grounded

Vandalism by Casey Nocket in Yosemite National Park (photo via

Vandalism by Casey Nocket in Yosemite National Park (photo via


Casey Nocket, an artist and outdoor enthusiast who was busted in 2014 for painting on rocks and cliffs in a number of National Parks, pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanor counts and will serve two years of probation — during which she will be banned from federal park land — and 200 hours of community service.

Verdict: One of many lessons to be taken from this fiasco — if you’re going to deface federal land, don’t document it publicly on social media. Though it would probably be much better if you didn’t do it in the first place.

Chair Dealers Duped Versailles


Antique furniture dealers Bill Pallot and Laurent Kraemer have been arrested for allegedly selling two fake Louis XV chairs to the Palace of Versailles for €1.7 million (~$1.9 million).

Verdict: Off with their head(rest)s!

Caricaturist’s Foundation Not Amused


The Al Hirschfeld Foundation has severed ties with and is suing the gallery and gallerist that have long sold and exhibited the late caricaturist’s work, Margo Feiden Galleries and Margo Feiden.

Verdict: The bad blood between these two camps goes way back — Herschfeld had sued Feiden before his death in 2003.

Woven Sculpture Goes Up in Smoke


A sculpture of a woman and child collecting flowers that was installed in public gardens in Atherton, UK, was destroyed after being set on fire. The willow-weave statue was intended to be welcoming and was a centerpiece of the town’s entry into a local garden competition.

Verdict: Sadly, Atherton officials should have seen this coming — burning down flammable statuary is a time-honored practice.

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...

7 replies on “Crimes of the Art”

  1. “the owner of the property (Michael Stewart) where La Contessa was moored between Burning Man events burnt and scrapped the dessert vessel.”

    Well, I hope they saved the salad bar…

    (Sorry, couldnt resist.)

      1. No, it’s still showing as “dessert vessel.”

        Hrag, do you need a copy editor? I’m available …

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