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, 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
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.
New research contests the myth that it was Christianity’s opposition to public nudity that led to the decline in large-scale bathing in the late Roman Empire.
An exhibition at San Francisco’s Letterform Archive highlights typography’s role in iconic social movements from the 1800s through the present.
Contemporary art, original sketches, and more explore how the Japanese character sprung from the pages of a manga and became a global cultural sensation.
Rocks, ducks, and a self-organized survey of Gingham are some of the things to see right now in four Chicago art galleries.
Three weeks into their strike, part-time professors are escalating their protests, backed by public figures and disgruntled parents.
Eleven Contemporary Artists Explore the Meaning of Shelter at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Artists collaborate with nonprofit institutions and field experts to examine historical and contemporary determinants of housing and the feelings of safety and connection integral to places of living.
More than a dozen activists participated in the action, organized by the group Woman Life Freedom NYC.
The Wellcome Collection closed the long-term exhibition Medicine Man for concerns of “racism, sexism, and ableism.”
The award-winning Canadian artist explores notions of power through the imagery of science fiction in portraits, sculpture, and objects.
Eva Hagberg’s new book sheds light on the relationship between critic and publicist Aline Louchheim and architect Eero Saarinen.
If there is an object you have ever desired in your life, rest assured that someone in the advertising industry made money convincing you of exactly that.
This affordable, interdisciplinary program with excellent facilities and private studios offers in-person instruction for 2023.
Custodians, groundskeepers, and movers at the Rhode Island School of Design are seeking wage improvement, healthcare benefits, and a retirement package.
Ceramic fried eggs, critiques of real estate, and a whole booth dedicated to female-identifying saints caught my eye at Untitled, NADA, and Art Miami.