Af­ter 30 years, mu­seum gets stolen piece by modern mas­ter

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

More than three decades af­ter thieves made off with a valu­able painting from the Univer­sity of Ari­zona Mu­seum of Art, of­fi­cials say they have re­cov­ered the long sought piece from an antique dealer in New Mex­ico. Cu­ra­tors at the mu­seum that was home to Willem de Koon­ing's "Woman-Ochre" spent years hop­ing to get it back af­ter two peo­ple stole the painting the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing in 1985. That dream fi­nally came true when fur­ni­ture and antique dealer David Van Auker called the mu­seum from Sil­ver City, New Mex­ico.

Mar­ket­ing Man­ager Gina Com­pitello-Moore said Auker bought the painting at an es­tate sale and later be­gan re­search­ing it when he read an ar­ti­cle about the heist that de­picted an iden­ti­cal look­ing piece. "When I got the phone call, this is lit­er­ally the phone call I've been dreaming of - is some­body call­ing my phone and say­ing I think I have your stolen painting and that's what he said," mu­seum cu­ra­tor Olivia Miller said.

Miller said it re­ally stood out to her when Van Auker men­tioned dam­ag­ing lines across the can­vas that made it look as if it had been rolled up. Miller said a former mu­seum cu­ra­tor was in ut­ter dis­be­lief and elated when she told her the painting was re­cov­ered. The oil painting by the Dutch-Amer­i­can ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ist is one in an iconic se­ries by de Koon­ing that ex­plores the fig­ure of a woman.

The piece fea­tures de Koon­ing's sig­na­ture broad paint strokes, de­pict­ing var­i­ous col­ors across the fe­male body. Po­lice have said a man and woman were the sole vis­i­tors the day the painting was stolen. They say the woman dis­tracted a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer by mak­ing small-talk while the man cut the painting from the large frame, leav­ing the edges of the can­vas at­tached. The FBI said its agents con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the theft.

Dr. Nancy Ode­gaard, a con­ser­va­tor with the univer­sity, said she used a tool kit, mag­ni­fy­ing glass and an ul­tra vi­o­let lamp to metic­u­lously ex­am­ine the painting. Ode­gaard looked for ver­i­fy­ing marks of dam­age and re­pair on the piece con­sis­tent with pre­vi­ous con­ser­va­tion re­ports. Ode­gaard said she also com­pared the lines of cut­ting on the orig­i­nal and laid the cut por­tion on top. "Then we started look­ing at where the edges would go," Ode­gaard said. "For me which was a re­ally dra­matic con­nec­tion - a paint stroke that clearly went across both pieces." The con­ser­va­tor said the var­i­ous clues showed it was a per­fect match.

The mu­seum also plans to bring in a de Koon­ing ex­pert to ex­am­ine the painting for fur­ther au­then­ti­ca­tion. In 2015, the mu­seum dis­played the empty wooden frame that once held the painting along with sketches of the sus­pects to re­mind vis­i­tors of the heist on its 30-year an­niver­sary. "There are nu­mer­ous peo­ple on staff that have said that the vi­sion of the ca­reer high­light was hav­ing this painting re­turned," In­terim Direc­tor Meg Hag­yard said. "And to ac­tu­ally be here in this mo­ment in time for ev­ery­body is re­ally, re­ally emo­tional and ex­cit­ing." — AP

In this photo pro­vided by the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, Dr. Nancy Ode­gaard, a con­ser­va­tor with the univer­sity, leads the au­then­ti­ca­tion process for a re­cov­ered Willem de Koon­ing painting, in Phoenix. — AP

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