Art theft

Local man charged in attempted robbery from Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery

George Haag, who has pleaded not guilty, says he thought the portrait of Andy Warhol “would look better somewhere else” and “just wanted to make people laugh”


The Mapplethorpe portrait that was temporarily removed from the Memorial Art Gallery's walls was from Andy Warhol’s personal collection, and is part of the museum's Season of Warhol programme dedicated to the Pop artist

A local man has been arrested and charged in connection to an attempted burglary last month at the Memorial Art Gallery at the University of Rochester, in upstate New York. George Haag, 37, has pleaded not guilty, saying in a statement that he “did not intend to take” a $60,000 print he removed from the gallery wall and “just wanted to make people laugh”.

Haag was arraigned on Thursday at Rochester City Court and charged by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office with one count of Grand Larceny in the 2nd degree for attempting to steal property worth more than $50,000. According to the museum, Haag entered the gallery on 31 January and removed a photographic print of Andy Warhol by Robert Mapplethorpe (not a work by Warhol as previous reports suggested) from the wall, when he was stopped by museum security.

The local news channel WHEC reports that in his statement to police, Haag said he thought to himself that the work "would look better somewhere else", and he flipped a coin to decide if he should move it. Haag is being represented by a lawyer from the Monroe County Public Defender’s office according to court filings, but The Art Newspaper was unable to get a comment from them by phone or email at the time this story was posted.

“The security ambassador was right there only a few steps away from the work of art,” the museum’s director Jonathan Binstock tells The Art Newspaper. Haag “took the art off the wall, walked a few steps, and encountered a security ambassador who immediately radioed to dispatch and upon that call, the security team at MAG was mobilized including the Rochester Department of Public Safety officer who is always on site. At that point the work was released by the suspect and the security ambassador was able to take possession of it. They did not have much time to go very far.”

The museum was open to the public the day of the incident, and Haag spent roughly an hour perusing the exhibitions and “enjoying the museum”, as Binstock puts it, “before he made the unfortunate decision to remove the work of art from the wall”. The Mapplethorpe portrait was from Andy Warhol’s personal collection, and is part of the gallery’s Season of Warhol programme of exhibitions and events dedicated to the Pop artist.

“There was no damage done and no one was hurt,” Binstock says. “I couldn't be more relieved or grateful that this was the outcome.”