Works in Sean Scully's 2006 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum (photo by Mark Barry/Flickr)

Works in Sean Scully’s 2006 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum (photo by Mark Barry/Flickr)

Last week, New York City police officers arrested one of Sean Scully’s former assistants for allegedly stealing and attempting to sell a triptych that had gone missing from his studio, the New York Post reported.

Arturo Rucci, a Brooklyn-based artist who had worked in Scully’s Chelsea studio back in 2011, allegedly stole a three-panel painting from 1985 valued at between $400,000–600,000 and then consigned it for sale at Bonhams, the New York Daily News reported. When the auction house contacted Scully’s studio to verify the work’s authenticity, the artist realized it was missing and alerted the NYPD. Rucci was arrested on Thursday, October 26, and is being held on $2,500 bail for criminal possession of stolen property.

Works by Scully, a Dublin-born two-time nominee for the Turner Prize, regularly fetch six-figure sums at auction, and sometimes even more. In mid-May, one of his trademark colorful geometric abstract paintings, “Landline Sea” (2015), sold for $1,692,500 at Christie’s in New York; and later that month, at a Phillips sale in Hong Kong, his painting “Wall of Light Green” (2013) fetched HK$10,880,000 (~US$ 1.4 million).

Rucci, a 50-year-old painter of colorful hard-edge abstraction that occasionally incorporates crisply rendered representational elements, has had more success as an artist (under the name A.A. Rucci) than as an alleged art thief. In 2009 he had a solo exhibition in Chelsea at the since-shuttered gallery Mixed Greens; in 2011 he was the subject of the final exhibition at Coleman Burke Gallery’s New York space; and in 2012 he had an exhibition at Galeria Balaguer in Barcelona. However, the secondary market for his work pales in comparison to Scully’s; his only work to come to auction at Phillips, a circular painting from 2003, sold for just $1,750 in 2014, well below its pre-sale estimate of $3,000–5,000.

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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...