Mystery at the U of A Art Museum - Tucson News Now

Mystery at the U of A Art Museum

Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas (Photo courtesy of UAMA) Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas (Photo courtesy of UAMA)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It has been more than 30 years since someone at the University of Arizona Art Museum has seen a well-known piece of art.

The “Woman Ochre” by artist Willem de Kooning, went missing the day after Thanksgiving in 1985. 
 
The museum told Tucson News Now, a staff member had been heading in for work that day, when he was followed into the museum by a younger man and an older woman. They asked to enter the museum early and they were allowed in. The woman distracted one of the security guards, while the man walked upstairs into the gallery. During that time, it is believed that the man took a knife and cut the painting out of the frame. Once it was cut, the two left and took off in a rust-colored car.
 
The security guard had feeling something was up with the two, and after finding the frame with the missing painting, the guard tried to catch the man and the woman. But it was too late.

"The only conclusion we can come to is that it was a work for hire, the two were paid to steal it," said Curator Olivia Miller.
 
One of the officers who responded to the scene that day 31 years ago, is current UAPD Police Chief Brian Seastone. He helped with the investigation. Chief Seastone remembers getting leads on the case but nothing panned out.

“Every time I go by the art museum, I think about that particular day and the impact it had on the campus and the art world,” said Chief Seastone.
 
The "Woman Ochre" is said to be worth millions of dollars, according to Miller, because it might be one of the last paintings in Kooning’s series on women. Plus, the art piece has a dramatic story attached to it.
 
However, the museum just wants the painting back. They feel like the museum’s art collection isn’t complete, because the woman hasn’t returned home.

So each year on the anniversary, the museum puts on display the frame of the stolen painting. Visitors can still see the marks from the knife along the edges of the frame. It’s a reminder to the workers of what’s missing and the hope that it will be returned one day.
 
The case is currently in the hands of the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

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