TUCSON, Ariz. – A painting stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art 37 years ago has been brought home largely through the careful and meticulous planning of special agents with Homeland Security Investigations ( HSI) in coordination with University Police.
The painting, which came to international attention after its shocking theft in 1985 and recovery more than three decades later, arrived on campus via an 18-wheeler with an HSI escort on the night of September 14. The truck had traveled 500 miles from the famed J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the painting went on display over the summer following an elaborate restoration by Getty conservators to repair damage sustained due to of theft.
“Woman-Ocher” will be on display at the University of Arizona Museum of Art on October 8.
“The fact that this painting has been found more than 30 years later largely intact and now restored to pristine condition is nothing short of remarkable,” said Scott Brown, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Phoenix. “Equally important is our longstanding partnership with the university in bringing this painting back to UofA, which paved the way for the effort to transport ‘Woman-Ocher’ from Los Angeles to Tucson. Having participated in a number of repatriation ceremonies, this is the first time we have been able to guarantee that a cultural and significant relic is returned to the citizens of Tucson The success of bringing this painting to Tucson would not have been possible without the cooperation of so many people and agencies who have spent countless hours contributing to this effort. I want to thank each and every one of you.”
Olivia Miller, acting director and curator of exhibits at UAMA, was among a small group of university staff and law enforcement officials to include HSI, gathered when the painting arrived on campus after nightfall.
“To see it return was that moment of relief and peace of mind that yes, this painting has come home,” she said. “It’s not just us at the museum who are excited about it. “, She added. “Everyone on campus is excited, everyone at the Getty is excited. The fact that a painting can bring all these people together is – I don’t know – there really are no words for it.
The stranger-than-fictional story of the theft of “Woman-Ocher” began the day after Thanksgiving in 1985, when a man and a woman entered the UAMA just as it opened for the day. As the woman chatted with museum staff, her partner disappeared into an upstairs gallery where one of the works on display was ‘Woman-Ochre’ – an oil painting completed in 1955 by the Abstract Expressionist Dutch-American Willem de Kooning and given to the university in 1958. The man cut the painting from its frame, rolled it up and walked out with it. By the time a security guard noticed the painting was missing, it was too late. The couple had left.
For years, the FBI had little to do other than a rough sketch of the suspects and a description of a rust-colored sports car driving off the scene. Then, in 2017, there was a break in the case – a trio of antique dealers in Silver City, New Mexico discovered the stolen painting after cross-checking references. this press article.
HSI Special Agent Michael Torres was in charge of security related to the painting’s return to Tucson and accompanied the painting on its eight-hour drive across state lines. He and his team worked closely with the UAMA, the Getty and the UofA Police Department to coordinate the safe transportation of the painting.
“It was really important that we treated it as we would any investigation, with the seriousness of making sure it was safe, that the drivers driving it were safe and that no vandalism or theft would occur on our shows,” Torres said. “I think it’s absolutely fantastic that this painting can finally return to its rightful place and have played such a big part in getting back to basics.”
“Woman-Ocher was found shortly after I arrived at the University of Arizona, and I’ve been following this remarkable story with interest ever since,” said UofA President Robert C. Robbins. “It is such a triumph to see this crown jewel of our art collection finally return to the University of Arizona Museum of Art, making our campus a true arts destination. may the return of the painting bring even more patronage and appreciation to this incredible installation.
Members of the public who suspect they have encountered counterfeit products or merchandise are encouraged to report it to local law enforcement or by calling the HSI Inquiry Line at 1-866-DHS-2423. The public can also visit IPRCenter.gov and click “Report IP Theft” to submit an anonymous tip online.
HSI is a branch of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, particularly criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and financial move. HSI’s workforce of more than 10,400 employees includes more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities across the United States and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative police presence overseas and one of the largest international law enforcement footprints in the United States.