Street art stolen and even held for ransom

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In mid-January, a thief threw a brick into the window of the ATZ Street Retreat, a health center on New York’s Lower East Side, stealing three paintings by street artist Phase 2.

At 9 p.m. on February 6, Alfredo Martinez received a call from a man telling him he owned the shipment. Martinez, a working artist, has some experience with the dark side of the art world: in the past, he produced a series of fake Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings that he sold to a collector home, which turned out to be an FBI sting. He spent 36 months at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Here, he met a man who called and told him that he had bought three Phase 2s from the robbers. He went on to say that the NYPD put a lot of pressure on the street against people they thought might know who had them. The man asked Martinez: Can he use his artistic wit to take the painting out of his hands and make some money too?

Martinez knew where the painting had come from and called ATZ’s Mike Seth ahead of time, and then FBI agent Bob Wittman, who had arrested him, and told him established a friendly relationship with him. The now-retired broker advised him to set it up the right way. Martinez returned to his prison ties, where he lived with a woman. “There were weeks of going back and forth on social media,” he said. “They sent me pictures of the work very early on. There were two or three phone calls every day, back and forth negotiating.”

off the street

The theft highlights a major change in street art culture. Stage 2, born Michael Lawrence Marrow, who died of ALS in 2019 at age 64, was a major figure in the first-generation movement that emerged in the early 1970s.

“Phase is a legendary writer,” said David Schmidtlap, co-curator of the second phase of the exhibition, which will be held at the ACA Gallery at 529 West 20th Street. “I made this street art publication called IG Times, the premier international street art publication of the early to mid-1980s. Phase goes back a long way, and he was the most influential person in laying the foundations of the style. Phase Two likes anonymity, he said. “He never liked being photographed. He’s always covering his face, and if that’s the case, he’ll act out. “

Those who left their marks on walls or subways back then were widely seen as vandals rather than collectible artists, let alone stealers. Al Díaz, co-founder of the iconic graffiti team SAMO’s Jean-Michel Basquiat, remembers what he thought was the first gallery presentation of graffiti art, the 1973 United Graffiti Artists show.West Broadway,” he said. There, he said, graffiti artist Snake 1 would be the first to sell his work in the gallery. SAMO was established five years later and was soon written as Village Voiceand become a powerful presence in street culture.

Then you won’t worry about the idea of ​​being stolen.

Al Diaz

Did he or Basquiat worry that robbers might steal their jobs? “At that time, you wouldn’t worry about the idea of ​​being stolen,” Díaz said.

Fast forward to the mainstreaming of street art and the thriving of talent like Rammellzee, Futura 2000 and Richard Hambleton.Calvin Tomkins in New Yorker On December 1, 1983, the “Post-Graffiti” exhibition opened at Sidney Janis Gallery, the bluest blue chip space on West 57th Street, which can be seen as the official entrance of street art into the art world and the art world. , yes, the art market. So, inevitably, Banksy.

The sale price of Banksy’s work makes the artist a juicy target. Thefts are mostly happening in the UK, but not all. In January 2019, thieves cut a mural from the steel doors of Paris’ Bataclan concert hall, a painting of a grieving girl commemorating the 90 victims of the 2015 terrorist attack there. It was found in the attic of a farmhouse near Rome during a French/Italian operation last summer. Six people were arrested in France.

Other images he posted in Paris were of mice, often armed with knives, reportedly in response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s treatment of undocumented aliens. In September 2019, thieves sawed off such a piece from a sign near the Centre Pompidou. Two men were arrested. A man appeared before the magistrate and said Banks told him about the robbery.

It’s a smart defensive move.Banksy has this talent for mischief, like when girl holding balloons Sold for $1.4 million at Sotheby’s in London in October 2018, it was shattered directly after auction by his embedded and remote-controlled mechanism.he renamed love in the trash. Its value is scaled up. The social media response to the rat theft has been ecstatic. (Banksy never authenticated the stolen works, a method he called “pest control.”)

Italian and French police unveil artwork by street artist Banksy at a ceremony to return the artwork to France to commemorate the 2015 Paris terror attacks that were stolen from the Bataclan concert hall in 2019 and later found in Italy victims. The French embassy in Palazzo Farnese in Rome on July 14, 2020.

Filippo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images

Stik, another famous British street artist with a high auction price, naturally became the target. Stick, like Banksy, sometimes creates art that conveys a social message, such as supporting the National Health Service, and he had intended to commemorate his first public sculpture, Hoxton Square, in Hackney, London. Holding Hands was installed where he has long lived, and he sent 100,000 photos to residents to celebrate their patience during the pandemic and lockdown.

Many of these prints were stolen before they reached him, and they soon began to be sold online. Such was the local outrage, although most people, including many who bought online, were soon sent back to Stik for planned distribution. “Hopefully they’re shocked that Stik is doing some really good things for his fellow Hackney – he’s funding it out of his own pocket – because he wants to bring smiles to people, which is incredibly tough for most people here. year,” the official announcement.

In the street art world, though, things don’t tend to go so smoothly. The intruder, a French artist who made mosaics from ceramic sheets, worked at night, often wearing a mask, carried out what he called an “invasion,” installing works in cities in 33 countries and printing pamphlets to pinpoint locations. Intruder’s work can sell for six figures, so he’s also a club target.

In August 2020, local news reports in Hong Kong noted that CCTV footage appeared to show that a piece of intruder work that had disappeared from the wall for several years had been removed by workers and handed over half an hour later. To “a foreign man and a woman”. The report concluded with bitterness that the invaders “created at least 48 works of art across Hong Kong, few of which have survived.”

Artist and Hackney resident Stick at the launch of his 4m bronze sculpture hand in hand.

Yui Mok/PA Photo via Getty Images

“They wanted ten and we offered five. We finally agreed to 7,500”

As early as today, Martinez noticed that the recovery of stolen art was getting media attention. This reporter has known him for a long time, so it is Quentin Pistol who is making a documentary about Martinez showing him creating the new Basquiat ) fake, he drove me to the Jersey City apartment he shared with his siblings. There, Martinez told us he was coordinating three Phase 2 deliveries and $7,500 from ATZ owner Mike Sais.

“They wanted ten and we offered five. We ended up agreeing to 7,500,” Martinez said.

“I had to borrow it,” Seth told me later.

Pistol and I sat next to Martinez, who sat in front of the large screen and occasionally answered the phone, where he would say, “I’m waiting for cash, I can’t touch a dime.” Then he’d go back to the endless video games to destroy zombies, dying light 2. When we settled down, it seemed like we were waiting endlessly for the combination of money and art.

The first cash arrived in the early afternoon. $2,500. A call at 3:30 p.m. indicated that a painting was on its way. The pistol was hiding in the bedroom with me, and I muted my iPhone. We later learned that Martinez’s cellmate drove his girlfriend to the suburban house. She has come to the apartment, picked up the cash and handed over the first of Phase 2.

When Pistor and I were allowed back, the room was empty except for Martinez. Another wait, a phone call. “They’ll come back with the rest of the money,” Martinez said. bedroom time. $5,000 arrived in an hour and a half. That, also stopped on the table. The fluidity of the movements convinced the robbers that Martinez could be trusted and both paintings would be delivered.

another call. We then watched Sais gleefully unfold the final two Phase 2s. Seth called the NYPD and said he had recovered his art. “They said they had made an arrest,” he said.

I spoke with Detective Kadia Saunders of the 9th Precinct who is working on the case. She did not deny an arrest was made, but would not provide further comment. The NYPD did not respond to further inquiries about the status of the investigation.

The police found their man.

Mike Seth

However, Seth, who did speak to them, said the arrests had nothing to do with the people who got the artwork from them. It’s not a complicated operation either. “He took those three paintings because they weren’t framed. He didn’t want to bring framed paintings.”

He added firmly: “The police have their people.”

They did. On March 17, 2021, the person was arrested for stealing several artworks, including a print of Andy Warhol Campbell’s soup can, from the back seat of a Porsche parked in Manhattan’s NoHo district. The 25-year-old has reportedly been arrested more than 20 times since 2015 for crimes including petty theft and burglary.

Sais later told me that all three paintings would be included in the second phase of the retrospective at ACA Gallery, priced at $75,000 each. No Basquiat or Hambleton yet, but not bad. We shouldn’t expect any further adventures from Alfredo Martinez, though. “I faked not just Basquiat, but Keith Harlins. Prison was a publicity stunt. But I got tired of being a faker and decided it was time to break the bait or fish.”

Martinez insists he is not interested in dealing with more stolen art. “No one should expect me to pick up that phone again.”

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