Thieves Make Off With Zao’s 1971 Painting “25.11.71,” Worth Estimated US$630,000
A daring late-night theft took place yesterday at Beijing’s Taiwanese-owned Soka Art Center, with thieves making off with a 1971 painting by the Chinese-French modernist Zao Wou-Ki (赵无极). As first reported by Taiwan’s China Times (中国时报), shortly after the gallery closed on the night of October 30, two raincoat-clad men broke in, disabled the alarm and security cameras, then set to work replacing several works with counterfeits. The gallery recently concluded its “10th anniversary” exhibition, featuring work by artists like Andy Warhol, Liu Ye, Yayoi Kusama, Lin Fengmian and Zao Wou-Ki.
According to the China Times, the thieves brought with them counterfeit copies of five works — Zao Wou-Ki’s “25.11.71” and Andy Warhol’s “Prince Charles” and “Princess Diana” from the 10th anniversary exhibition, plus two works by Zhang Xiaogang and Yan Pei-Ming that hang in the permanent collection. Though the thieves took down the works by Warhol and Zao and replaced them with counterfeits, for unknown reasons they only ran off with the authentic work by Zao, leaving the Warhols behind, the China Times reports. As of today, police are still searching for suspects.
Art thefts are rare in China, particularly one this well-prepared. Nearly six months ago, seven pieces of art were stolen from Beijing’s Palace Museum, the first theft there in 20 years. While that theft was described by the New York Times as “bungled,” with police nabbing a suspect within days, it did raise questions about security at Chinese museums. We can expect this week’s Zao Wou-Ki theft to raise similar questions about security at the country’s galleries as well.
UPDATE (November 7, 2011): According to Artintern, Beijing police caught the suspect and secured the unharmed painting on November 4, 2011.