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Art Crimes

July 29, 2017 • Los Angeles

This week Liz Ohanesian wrote in LA Weekly about the city’s most interesting art crimes. Some are mundane—are cels from the Peanuts TV show really art? Others are more compelling, like artworks “stolen” in insurance scams, and even an inside job to relieve UCLA of some of their art collection.

Reading about art crimes reminded me of the story of Stephanie Lazarus, who murdered her romantic rival in Van Nuys in 1986 but didn’t get caught until 2009 when homicide cops matched her DNA to the a bite mark on the victim. Until her case came into the news, I’d never heard of an art crimes police, but Lazarus was an art crimes detective. If the LAPD has an art crimes section, other police forces probably do too, but it was news to me.

Art is highly personal, I think, and not something that is necessarily universal or even shared. How does one define an art crime in the broader sense, then, beyond the thefts and frauds Stephanie Lazarus investigated? The collection at the newish Broad Museum on Grand Avenue is certainly valuable, at least in financial terms, as it was assembled based on resale value and appreciation, like real estate or stocks. You’ll know the names of the artists as you walk around, and the pieces will all seem vaguely familiar. Do the resources committed to this collection constitute an art crime if the artworks are of dubious artistic value? I’m no art critic, but the Broad is what you’re going to get when the bean counters and actuaries are the ones running the museums.

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