Manhattan gallerists say that the suspects distracted them with art enquiries before taking off with valuable possessions
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the art world is rife with crime, from fakes and forgeries, to fraud, sketchy tax workarounds, and – on the more glamorous end of the spectrum – daring heists. Recently, though, New York City galleries witnessed a string of robberies that reduced the art hanging on their walls to a mere distraction.
Over the weekend, at least five Manhattan-based galleries reported that a group of young men – who appeared to be teenagers – made off with items such as handbags and headphones while pretending to browse their collections. Though no actual artworks were stolen, there were some significant losses, with thousands of dollars spent using one staff member’s credit card amid the spree.
“Couple of kids asking real questions about the artwork,” writes gallerist Cindy Rucker, recalling how she was duped on an online forum for members of the New Art Dealers Alliance, NADA Noodle. “One distracted me while the other grabbed my AmEx out of my wallet. They even gave me their emails so I could send them JPEGS!”
The thieves didn’t stop there, and continued to prowl galleries in and around the Lower East Side, including Derosia, Nicodim Gallery, and Hashimoto Contemporary. Other gallerists reported that the same thieves were walking around Chelsea and Tribeca, and warned others to lock their doors. On Monday, Ulterior’s Takako Tanabe wrote on NADA Noodle: “Surprise, THEY CAME AGAIN to my space just now. This time, it was just two boys, and one had a bicycle. They asked, ‘Is it a gallery?’ and I replied, ‘Closed’ and shut the door.”
The worst affected victim of the robberies, though, is Betty Cunningham Gallery. In an email to its staff (shared via Artnet), the gallery wrote: “Unfortunately, two young men came into the gallery yesterday posing as art students and managed to steal staff [sic] personal items.” One of the items was a wallet, nabbed from behind the front desk while another member of the group kept staff busy, presumably posing as a prospective collector.
Afterwards, it took Betty Cunningham staff 20 minutes to realise what had happened, by which time the thieves had racked up thousands of dollars of purchases on a credit card. Luckily, those at Cindy Rucker managed to cancel a stolen card after the thieves spent just $40 at a local restaurant.
Admittedly, $40 or even thousands of dollars pales in comparison to the prices paid for many works hanging in Manhattan galleries (who are the real thieves, amirite). But, if there’s one thing that last weekend’s high culture crime spree proves, it’s that art-based crime isn’t just for the ultra wealthy.
The galleries in question reported the robberies to the police, but no arrests have been reported yet.