All of a sudden art theft seems rampant in our region. Two well known galleries in Sacramento were burglarized last week. The prior week, an artist we represent, Ning Hou, had his home in Stockton broken into and 140 of his paintings were stolen. I feel that I have been on high alert, wondering if the Knowlton Gallery would be hit next.
A few days ago, in walks three gangster-looking guys who seemed to be casing the gallery. After taking their time looking around they started up a conversation about selling us a painting by a "Chinese guy." Luckily they didn't have the painting with them. We arranged for them to return with it the next morning. After they left we contacted the police and the artist, the next day they waited with us for the group to return; waited and waited ... and waited. The police and the artist left, and, wouldn't you know, the gangsters returned after lunch, four of them. I pulled my silent alarm and my assistant and I kept up a steady chit chat with the group to keep them in the gallery.
A policeman arrived, casually strolling in, completely unprepared to take any action. It was fortunate the bad guys didn't have a weapon because the cop would have been shot on the spot. As it was, two of the four walked out of the gallery and got away. I told the policeman, "detain these guys, they have stolen property!" but it wasn't until a second policeman showed up that a move was made to get their IDs and handcuffed them. Both men had parole violations (of course). It was some 40 minutes before the artist was able to return and identified the painting as one of the ones stolen from his house.
Only 139 more paintings to recover...