Art Theft in Connecticut: Gone Baby, Gone


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The thieves know how to pick their targets, and they’re not the well-protected galleries and museums—they’re much more likely to be private homes or public spaces.

The thin man moves through a gallery on the second floor of the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale. He passes a line of semi-abstract paintings, some including stylized Hebrew letters painted by a father and son: David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, and his son Daniel, a Yale student. The man knows he has free run of the gallery, having noted that the regular front desk attendant at the center left at 4:30 p.m., and the student who would take over has yet to arrive. The man chooses two paintings that hang at the end of the second- floor gallery, as well as one from the landing leading up to the third floor. He slips out of the center without being seen.

The next morning a janitor enters the Slifka Center to sweep and mop the floors. When he reaches the second-floor gallery, he does a double take. There are two blank spaces interrupting the rhythm of paintings hung on the wall. His first thought is that the paintings were removed for some official reason—perhaps one of the artists took them down. But he informs the desk attendant all the same. The desk attendant also thinks that Daniel Gelernter must have taken them down—he’d removed them in the past, touched them up and returned them to display. It was only the following day, March 5, 2009, that the Gelernter family was contacted, after a third painting, the one from the landing, was also noted missing.

The three paintings in question were “Sh’ma” and “Naria,” by David Gelernter, and “Drawing III,” by Daniel. Those by David were of considerable value, having been sold as a pair for $40,000.

Now they were gone.

Through the grainy CCTV camera, we watch as the same thin man moves surreptitiously through an exhibition space, this one on the lower floor of the New Haven Public Library. He moves quickly down a corridor, a painting in his hand. He then slips the painting into a plastic shopping bag, covers it with his overcoat and moves to the library exit.

It was not until a volunteer curator came to dismantle the library’s municipal art exhibition, that a number of thefts were noted. Five works had disappeared. They must have been taken sometime during the last two weeks of February, but no one had noticed. It was only in March, after hearing about the Slifka Center thefts, that someone made the connection: Someone was stealing art, and on an impressive scale.  

The library haul included two paintings by Chris Ferguson: “Beware of Dog,” a humorous composition in which a cute stuffed dog sits slumped on the stoop of a whitewashed house, and “Energy,” in which a little girl walks unsteadily as her mother looks on. Also missing was a painting by Brian Wendler of Grand Avenue Bridge in New Haven, a painting of East Rock by Constance LaPalombara, and an etching of City Hall in New Haven by Tony Falcone. The works were valued at around $6,000 total. Not exactly “The Scream,” but stolen art nonetheless.

Art Theft in Connecticut: Gone Baby, Gone

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