Art Theft Here in New Orleans

Stealing art is shockingly easy.  See below video of an art theft on Royal Street here in New Orleans.  The theft of two of George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog paintings occurred late in the day on Friday.  As you can see below a man walked in, took two small canvases from a back room and walked off.  A few simple steps could have easily averted this theft, and as usual CC tv cameras don’t really do much good.  A step as simple as placing a number of marbles behind the frames would have alerted the gallery staff, or even a very loud alarm system like art guard — which is a simple and relatively inexpensive way to prevent this kind of theft. 

Crime video: ‘Blue Dog’ robber in action
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World Monuments Fund Watch List

The World Monuments Fund has announced its 2010 “watch list”, and two sites from here in New Orleans have made the list.  The first is St. Louis Cemetery No. 2, and the modern glass and steel Phillis Wheatley Elementary School. 

St. Louis Cemetery was opened in 1823.  The tombs are above ground—a necessity because of the ground water levels, and in keeping with French and Spanish tradition.  It was created by and for the city’s “free people of color.”  St. Louis #2 contains the remains of some of the earliest and jazz and blues musicians, including Danny Barker.  It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  It contains some remarkable examples of cemetery art, and Creole history.  The cemetery is at risk from vandalism, water lines from the flooding during Hurricane Katrina, and neglect. 

File:All Saints Day in New Orleans -- Decorating the Tombs.jpg

These New Orleans sites join the ranks of Herat in Afghanistan, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Machu Picchu, Taos in New Mexico, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin homes in Wisconsin and Arizona.  

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Art Fraud in New Orleans

Today’s Times-Picayune has the story of a Mother and Son who “invented” artists to help sell cheap Chinese paintings from wholesale distributors. The pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. From the story:

Constance “Connie” Breithoff, 60, and Christopher Breithoff, 35, both of Covington, admitted in federal court on Wednesday to misrepresenting their galleries’ artwork. They would buy inexpensive Chinese paintings from wholesale distributors and then market and sell them, at a large profit, as works created by Louisiana artists.

Specifically, the mother-son art dealers pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Each now faces a $250,000 fine, as much as five years in prison and three years of supervision after prison. They were charged by the U.S. attorney’s office on Sept. 17 and are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 28 by U.S. District Judge Eldon E. Fallon.

The mother and son would mail a certificate of authenticity, along with a description of the fictional artists, to their customers after each purchase.

In addition to owning the Barlow Art Gallery and Transitions in Mandeville, the family operated a Barlow gallery in the French Quarter at 805 Royal St. from 1999 to 2005.

This mirrors in some ways the concerns with the buying of art at auction on cruises a few months ago. Do not buy art as a tourist, if you are spending more than a thousand dollars, make sure you educate yourself about the dealer and the artist.

If you bought a work of art in New Orleans by an artist named Falgot, S.A.M., Shanta, or Michel, you may want to contact the U.S. Attorney’s office, victim witness coordinator at 504-680-3000.

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Gustav — Levees Holding

Apologies for the light posting in recent days. I was in a hurry to pack up some clothes and head out of New Orleans. I’m safe in Austin Texas, watching and reading the Times-Picayune coverage of the storm. Things appear to be in flux at the moment. There are scattered reports of flooding in the Lower 9th Ward, but it looks like the levees are holding so far.

Driving West on I-10 on Saturday I saw hundreds of buses and ambulances coming in to get folks out of the path of the storm. The silver lining may be that people were able to get out of the area in time.

One issue during Katrina and during this storm is how to protect works of art during these disasters. I noted with great interest the forthcoming ICOM/ICMAH annual conference on “Museums and Disasters” which is scheduled to take place Nov. 12th – 16th 2008 in New Orleans. The scheduled presenters re seeming to take an interesting approach — by looking at how to present disasters as the subject of exhibition, but also how to protect museum collections during disasters. I had never considered before what the art museums in New Orleans (and elsewhere) do with their works of art to protec them during storms and natural disasters.

Hopefully I can shuffle my teaching duties to be able to attend most of these events in a couple of months. I’m also eager to get back to work at Loyola as soon as I can, but I did check out a big box of art law and contract law treatises to get to work on a new article this week.

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