An unknown thief or group of thieves stole Pablo Picasso‘s Visage aux Mains (Face with Hands) (1956) from the Amsterdam-based Leslie Smith Gallery’s booth at Art Miami, the Miami Herald reports. The work is a 16.5 inch in diameter silver plate and is believed to have been snatched sometime after 10:30pm on Thursday night. Police have classified the heist as grand theft.
Gallery owner David Smith discovered that the plate was missing from its holder upon arriving to Art Miami on Friday morning around 10:45am. “I’ve been doing art shows all my life,” he told the paper, “I’ve never, ever had anything stolen.” The work in question is worth an estimated $85,000 and is part of a 20-piece series.
Upon being notified of the theft, Police reportedly cordoned off the booth to conduct their investigation. Smith told the Herald that on top of losing the prized Picasso, that meant he also had to turn away potential customers on one of Art Miami’s busiest mornings.
Police have very little to go on in their investigation thus far. A detective from Miami Police Department told the Herald “There is no video surveillance or witnesses to this incident.” However, the tent in which Art Miami was held until Sunday night was under 24-hour security. Doors were chained closed after the fair closed for the evening and only an approved list of cleaners and individuals showing at the fair or involved with its administration were allowed to enter thereafter. Art Miami employs the same security firm as Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Responding to the theft on Saturday, fair director Nick Korniloff said that Art Miami would offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who returned the Picasso. That may seem low for such an expensive work, but it also suggests a working theory of the crime. A much more expensive Picasso ceramic (for which the market is currently booming; see “Buy, Sell, Hold: Picasso Ceramics“) was hung just below Visage aux Mains (Face with Hands) (1956). Thus, if the thief or thieves were, in fact, after the plate’s silver—worth a reported $400 or so when melted down—rather than its value on the art market, the reward would serve as quite the incentive to hand it back in.
UPDATE: Art Miami director Nick Korniloff subsequently sent the following comment to artnet News about the latest regarding the investigation:
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We are currently continuing to cooperate with authorities regarding the missing work. The police are conducting their own investigation and are diligently going over the time frame in which the work went missing and who had approved access to the facility. In the seven years that we have owned and operated the fair we have never had a loss and utilize the exact same security company and measures as Art Basel Miami Beach. It is our policy to all exhibitors that they place small valuable objects that can easily be hidden into their secure closet areas at the end of day. We have issued a $5,000.00 reward for the return of the work with no questions asked—based on our own internal conclusion that whomever took the piece knows nothing about art and took it based on the fact that they thought it to be solid silver. […] It makes absolutely no sense that this work would be targeted by anyone with knowledge of art. We hope that the piece is returned to the owner to preserve the existence of the work for future generations.