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Crimes of the Art

Muammar Gaddafi's dagger, recently seized by Turkish police (screenshot by the author via Twitter)
Muammar Gaddafi’s dagger, recently seized by Turkish police (screenshot by the author via Twitter)

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.

Dealer Can’t Cut Deal for Gaddafi’s Dagger

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Turkish police seized an ornate, bejeweled, and carved ivory dagger that was allegedly stolen from the palace of Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan dictator. It was confiscated in Istanbul from a businessman who bought it in Libya for $4.6 million and had allegedly found a Saudi buyer willing to pay $10 million for it.

Verdict: Sounds like that businessman will see his profits slashed.

“Some Feminists” Tag Bettie Page Mural

crimes-of-the-art-scream-1“Stop exploiting women’s bodies — Some Feminists,” reads the discrete graffiti tagged on the side of a house in Seattle famous for its two-story-tall mural of the iconic pinup model Bettie Page. Vandals also threw paint on the giant figure’s legs.

Verdict: This might actually be a Portlandia sketch that was filmed in the wrong Pacific Northwest city.

Spanish Duo Allegedly Amassed 10,000 Artworks in 15 Robberies

crimes-of-the-art-scream-5-newOne man has been arrested and another is under investigation after Spanish police raided a house in the city of Bullas, turning up an incredible trove of 5,000 rare coins, 4,000 archaeological artifacts, 40 paintings, 30 manuscripts, and more. The huge stash of artifacts is believed to have been assembled over the course of at least 15 robberies.

Verdict: What kind of home is big enough for 10,000 artifacts, anyway? Are Spanish police certain the “house” they raided wasn’t a museum?

Fight for Self-Mummified Buddhist Monk Statue

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Residents of a village in Fujian, China, are suing for the return of a statue that contains the remains of a Buddhist monk who self-mummified himself around 1,000 years ago. The statute, currently being held by a Dutch collector who acquired it in the mid-1990s in Hong Kong, Oscar van Overeem, is believed to have been stolen from the village’s temple.

Verdict: There are few things less zen than holding onto an illegally obtained mummified Buddhist monk.

Feds Track Down Ad Reinhardt WPA Painting

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4The federal government wants “Abstraction #6” (1940), a Works Progress Administration commission that Ad Reinhardt made for a high school in Staten Island, back. The colorful abstract composition was bought at a Sotheby’s auction in 1997 by collector Myron Kaplan, but now the government is claiming ownership and threatening to sue him. The painting disappeared after being accidentally tossed in the trash during a renovation of the high school in the 1960s.

Verdict: Evidently the federal government is not familiar with the dictum, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Greek Narcos Nab Antiquities Smugglers

crimes-of-the-art-scream-4A bust of a 32-person crime ring in Greece — whose members included a police officer, firefighter, and three junior military officers — turned up hashish and cocaine, as well as 76 ancient coins and 38 stone and metal antiquities. The loot also included over €30,000 (~$33,760) in cash and 37 cellphones.

Verdict: Thirty-seven cellphones for a 32-person crime ring? How extravagant! No wonder they got caught.

University Art Collection May Include Ill-Gotten Divorce Spoils

crimes-of-the-art-scream-2The University of Notre Dame is facing a lawsuit over a collection of early American art worth $575,000 that was allegedly stolen from the late Jay Leff by his wife after he filed for a divorce. The alleged 1996 theft is the crux of a lawsuit brought by Leff’s son Scott, who claims the work was then sold to a dealer in New Mexico, who in turn sold it to Notre Dame.

Verdict: Leff better be ready for a long legal feud — they’re not called the Fighting Irish for nothing.

Juneau Who Really Made These “Native” Artifacts?

crimes-of-the-art-scream-3Norma M. Carandang, the co-owner of a gift shop in downtown Juneau, Alaska, pleaded guilty to two counts of misrepresenting Native-produced goods. She admitted to misleading customers (and one undercover agent) into buying inauthentic items that she claimed were made by “Alaskan Eskimo” and Tlingit/Haida Native artists.

Verdict: Another reminder of why you should buy your art from galleries, not tourist gift shops.

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