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One of the Banksy stencil paintings recently destroyed in Melbourne (photo by Nagarjun Kandukuru/Flickr)

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.

Banksy Rats Exterminated Down Under

Three small stencil images of rats spray-painted in Melbourne’s AC/DC Lane by the British artist Banksy were destroyed recently during the construction of a new doorway in the street art-filled alley. At least five other Banksy pieces in Melbourne have been destroyed since his visit in 2003.

Verdict: This careless construction work sounds like a dirty deed done dirt cheap.

Dealer Dealt Blue Chip Fakes for $30 Million

Manhattan art dealer Alex Komolov (of Alskom Gallery) is suing his former business partners David Segal and Mohamed Serry for allegedly selling him $30 million worth of fake artworks that were purportedly authentic paintings by Claude Monet, Maurice de Vlaminck, Pablo Picasso, Édouard Manet, and others. Komolov is also suing antiques dealer Jack Shaoul for selling him an allegedly fake Pierre-Auguste Renoir painting for $1.2 million.

Verdict: Real or fake, $1.2 million for a Renoir is suspect — everybody knows Renoir sucks at painting.

Ringling Museum Put Through Fiery Legal Hoops

Retired physician and museum donor Helga Wall-Apelt is suing the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art — whose Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art is named in her honor — for alleged breach of contract and demanding millions of dollars in donations to be returned. She claims, among other issues, that the museum failed to build the newly opened Center for Asian Art in the agreed-upon time frame, failed to exhibit her collection, and failed to hire an Asian art curator. She had given $4.1 million to the Ringling Museum for the construction of an Asian art wing.

Verdict: Few actions could tarnish an act so kind and benevolent as giving a museum $4.1 million, but suing the museum to get your money back is one of them.

Yale Fires Staffer Who Smashed Racist Stained Glass Panel

Corey Menafee, a (now former) dishwasher at Yale University, was fired for smashing a stained glass panel in the school’s Calhoun College dining hall that depicted two slaves carrying bales of cotton. He said he used a broomstick to knock out the “racist, very degrading” panel. Though Menafee was originally arrested by Yale police, the university will not press charges against him. (Yale’s Calhoun College is named for John C. Calhoun, an advocate for slavery and US Vice President under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.)

Update, 7/20: Menafee got his job back.

Verdict: Nothing says “white privilege” like looking out on your Ivy League college’s campus through an image commemorating slavery.

Icelandic Court Springs Geyser-Dyeing Artist

#marcoevaristti #jasoncampbellstudio

A photo posted by Jason Campbell (@jasoncampbellstudio) on

The Danish-Chilean artist Marco Antonio Evaristti, who was on trial for allegedly breaking Icelandic nature conservation laws last year when he poured five liters of red food dye into the beloved Strokkur geyser (see Crimes of the Art #11), has been acquitted.

Verdict: Now that this precedent has been set, Iceland should brace for a wellspring of geyser art.

Nahmads No-Shows in Divorce Dispute

Florida woman Gina Disabatino wants father-son art dealing duo David and Joe Nahmad to serve jail time for failing to provide court-ordered depositions in her ongoing divorce dispute with her estranged husband, Frederic Bouin. Disabatino is seeking information about artworks that the Nahmads sold her husband, which allegedly include paintings by Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Verdict: The Nahmad family’s wheelings, dealings, and legal proceedings will make for a fun miniseries someday.

Art Thief Claims Heist Was a “Stupid Prank”

On May 7, 38-year-old Daniel Healey walked into a Castle Cary art gallery, grabbed a painting worth £8,500 (~$11,300), and ran out of the gallery laughing. But now he claims that the apparent heist was just a “stupid prank” pulled on a “drunken crazy whim,” and that he always intended to return the artwork to its rightful owner. Healey’s trial is set to begin on August 1.

Verdict: I think the guy who stole the Mona Lisa used a similar excuse.

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Benjamin Sutton

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...

One reply on “Crimes of the Art”

  1. YALE FIRES STAFFER . . .

    It’s not clear if Mr Sutton is FOR or AGAINST this act of vandalism. What IS clear is that destroying property which does not belong to you, regardless of its subject matter, is simply illegal, and, dare I say, wrong. We may agree or disagree with the perpetrator’s motives, but how can we condone his actions?

    As to Mr Sutton’s VERDICT . . . There are many things that say “white privilege” a lot more than ‘looking out on your Ivy League college’s campus through an image commemorating slavery.’ This image, for better or worse, also ‘commemorated’ an entire milieu which ought not to be forgotten. Forgetting is one of the ways history ends up repeating itself.

    As a society, we have to come to terms with exactly how we want to respond to historical (and even present day) attitudes, politics, religions, social structures and behaviour, issues of gender and race, etc, etc. Do we really want to destroy places like Palmyra, temples to Baal, magnificent statues of the Buddha, and (hypothetically) eliminate works such as Mozart’s ‘Cosi fan Tutte’ for being male-chauvinist? The list, of course, is nearly endless.
    —————-
    Let me add a link to an article that appeared on 17.July in the New York Post which supports what I am saying:

    http://nypost.com/2016/07/17/destroying-art-depicting-slavery-shatters-everyones-shared-past/

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