Thursday, December 15, 2005

Today's Lesson for the Fledgling Art Thief

In general I've always thought of this blog as a forum for art lovers...sure, I throw in a bit of politics now and then and the odd autobiographical note, but what we discuss most often is a shared enthusiasm for art, why it's important, why it's valuable socially, spiritually, etc., and deserving of respect.

Today though I'm gonna offer a bit of advice to another group of folks: those who don't care a wit about art, other than with regards to how valuable it is considered by those who do. Today's post is dedicated to the sad subsegment of the art world we'll call the "bumbling art thief set"...those would-be Thomas Crowns without the common sense God gave a garden slug. offers the following cautionary tale:

In the world of high stakes crimes, this was no work of art. Instead, police arrested three people after they tried to sell paintings worth tens of thousands of dollars back to the gallery that owned the artwork.

Deanna Joao, 46, of South San Francisco, was arrested Sunday after she was allegedly caught with two paintings worth $45,000, according to police. Jeffrey Harp, 33, and Derek Hanson, 41, tried to flee but were caught after a police dog bit Hanson's leg.

The gallery owner's car was stolen in San Francisco on Nov. 23 with $75,000 to $100,000 worth of paintings inside. The vehicle was later found, but the paintings were gone.

The gallery then started getting calls in early December from a man saying he wanted to bring in a painting for appraisal. The artwork sounded familiar and the owners set up surveillance.

The trio finally showed up at the gallery on Sunday evening.

Hanson was expected to be booked into jail on charges of possession of stolen property, conspiracy and burglary. Joao and Harp were booked on similar charges. Police believe the other paintings may have been hidden.

OK, so today's lesson for the fledgling art thief: The Art World is very, very small. Understand that if a work of art has any value at all (i.e., is worth your while stealing), just about everyone will know who its rightful owner is. Even if that's not common knowledge though, you can be very, very, very, sure that a gallery who sells that artist's work will know exactly where each piece by that artist is (or is supposed to be) located.

I'll stop there. I don't want to overtax you the first day of class. But do review today's lesson...there'll be a quiz tomorrow.


Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

Your post compels me to share a couple of true Deep South stories.

My dear departed grandfather from Mississippi was a cattleman who moonlighted as a minister of the gospel. Inside his cattle truck he never had less than 20 copies of the King James Version of the Bible sliding around on the dashboard. No matter where he went in that truck, he never locked the doors and always rolled the windows down before exiting the vehicle.

When I was about 8 years old, I finally asked him:

"Grandpaw, aren't you afraid somebody's going to steal all these bibles with the doors unlocked and windows rolled down?"

I'll never forget his answer:

"Son, that's what they're there for...any man that would steal a bible needs a bible."

Years later I exhibited some of my experimental street photography in a group show at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans. There were 7 of us in the show exhibiting maybe 15 or 20 works.

A couple of weeks after the show opened I received a distressing call from the manager, a friend of mine:

"James, I hate to tell ya this, buddy, but somebody ripped off most of the photos last Saturday night."

"Damn, what about my pictures?"

"Well, here's the funny part, the only photographs they left behind were two of yours."

I never wanted to be the victim of a crime so bad. I felt humilitated and embarressed. My work wasn't good enough to be stolen.

I attempted to console myself by keeping my mind focused on the fact that my unstolen photographs were hanging on a wall around the corner from the main body of work near the restrooms. If you've ever been to the Maple Leaf, then you know how dark it is in that area.

True Deep South stories.


12/15/2005 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

any man that would steal a bible needs a bible.

That's an awesome answer...

It's not clear if the thief stole any of yours from the Maple Leaf or whether you had two pieces total in the exhibition though.

There's always the other explanation though, you know. Perhaps the thieves admired your work too much to take it as well...sort of an homage thing.

thanks for the charming stories!

12/15/2005 10:45:00 AM  
Blogger Joseph Barbaccia said...

Maybe because of how you manipulate the photo itself, the thieves thought they were damaged and believed they couldn't resell them.

12/15/2005 11:46:00 AM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

I only had two pieces in the show - the two that weren't stolen. I kept them all these years because one was pictured in the Times-Picayune newspaper - yes, this story, "Photos Dance Away at the Maple Leaf", made the news at the time!

Dear Joseph,

You've given me new insight into this old (1987) crime.

...and all these years I've falsely assumed that the thieves were maybe too damn lazy (or scared) to walk down the dark hallway leading to the restrooms where my work was displayed.

I think you've also inspired me with a new marketing tag line for the secondary marktet for my "Rough Edge Photography" - "These photographs are so damaged that it's illegal in 30 countries for us to auction them!"

I'm gonna run this by the good folks at Sotheby's and see what they think about this idea!


12/15/2005 12:07:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

When I lived in Oregon, a bank near me was robbed. Two men at gunpoint. They apparently walked from the bank down the street to a restaurant where they sat down and ordered. The police arrived before the entree.

One of my major professors at U of O never locked her doors at home. She had been robbed many times and said that repairing the broken windows/doors/locks cost more than buying another small tv. I asked her if she was worried about her art collection - she had some wonderful pieces - and she looked at me blankly: "No one steals art." I guess the exception is very high end. Commission work, as it were.

12/15/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what happened to the exene post?

12/16/2005 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

DCKT's site is being funny...I'm gonna repost it once I can get the images.

12/16/2005 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks. I love Exene. Can't wait.

12/16/2005 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Two things:

In early September, two days before I flew to Japan, my apartment was ransacked by thieves who crow-barred their way inside, destroying my locks and door frame in the process. They cut open and flipped my mattress, threw all my clothes out of drawers or off of closet hangers, moved stacks of paperwork and tore open most boxes...but one room was spared entirely.

The thieves clearly opened the door to my studio, but it appeared as though they had barely crossed the threshold. Nothing was touched, despite the many boxes and desk drawers in the room, all good places to stash money and drugs. Furthermore, the thieves were careful not to harm my cat, my snakes, my books or any of the art I have hanging/displayed in the apartment.

Frankly, I'm not sure whether or not I should be offended - like James Bailey - or relieved that they elected to leave well enough alone, perhaps after realizing I'm just another damned artist. Whatever the case, after a drunken, cursory inspection of the apartment upon my return that evening, I was happy to learn that my pets and artwork were healthy and happy.

Secondly, I wonder, Edward, if stolen masterpieces can't find a private market, even if, in the small Art World, "just about everyone will know who the rightful owner is." I seem to recall a story about some patron of the arts purchasing stolen works and keeping them hidden behind a curtain, available for surreptitious viewing to only a select few. Of course, this sounds like the doings of a Bond villain...

12/16/2005 04:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

sorry you got broken into, but it's actually a good sign that even thieves respect the sactuary of the studio.

of course there are criminal types who'll squirrel away some art loot, but they're stuck not being able to let anyone else know about it. Perhaps that suits some just fine, but for others it must eat away at them

12/16/2005 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Addding fuel to the fire, where are these guys? Somewhere, in some 'shire', driving down the lane in a lorrie, with a 12 foot long Henry Moore sculpture under a canvas tarp.

12/17/2005 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thief and artist litmus test passed. A friend and detective told me years ago that the "average" burglar will spend an approx. 6 to 8 minutes looking for cash or valuables that can be easily sold for cash.

When I decided to move to a crime riddled eastern European city for "artistic inspiration," I was certainly concerned about my valuables and art being snatched while I was out of the apartment. At the time I was too poor for renters or travelers insurance. So, I would simply leave a 50. dollar bill on the table hoping the thieves would simply take the money satisfied, and leave the rest of my things alone... Well, the day came when my door was crow-barred open while I was out, and the place was turned upside down. I was shocked, they left my laptop, CD's, and art. The only thing missing was the 50. dollars.

This has got to be the cheapest form of burglary insurance if you are an artist looking for some security.

12/26/2005 10:27:00 AM  

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