A Pair of Bumbling Thieves Nearly Melted Down $1 Million Worth of Artwork Thinking It Was Scrap Metal

Several bronze pieces by the late artist Greek Austrian sculptor were stolen from a Vienna studio last month, and offered to a recycling company for a few thousand euros.

Joannis Avramidis in-between his sculptures. Photograph taken at the studio of the Academy of Fine Arts. Vienna, Photography. 1989. (Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Several important works of art by the late Greek-Austrian artist Joannis Avramidis, valued at more than $1 million, were nearly lost forever when a pair of bumbling thieves mistook the pieces for scrap metal. Five bronze reliefs and two bronze sculptures were due to be melted down in a furnace in Vienna after being swiped from a studio in the city’s historic Leopoldstadt district last month.

Two suspects were apprehended on June 9 after investigators determined that the oblivious pair had peddled the art objects—weighing in at around 2,200 pounds in total—to a recycling company for a few thousand euros. According to Newsweek, police asserted that the works were due to be melted down “imminently,” but have since been returned to their rightful owner.

The potential charges against the suspects, described only as two Romanian citizens aged 37 and 41, remains unknown. Vienna police did not respond to Artnet News’s requests for comment.

Joannis Avramidis, who was born in 1922 in the former Soviet Union and died in Vienna in 2016, became a critical figure in Austrian art history best known for his abstract sculptures of the human form. The sculptor recently had an auction record, with Figure 1, 1963 selling for €126,000 ($181,201) at the Kunsthaus Lempertz auction house on June 1.

In 1962, Avramidis represented Austria in the 31st Venice Biennale, and he was a professor of sculpture at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts from 1965 until his retirement in 1992. The artist was the subject of a major posthumous retrospective at the Leopold Museum in Vienna in 2017, the largest exhibition of his work to date in Austria.

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