By Tucker Neel
To Catch A Thief: Why it’s not a good idea to steal from muscled men in leather and chains
In 2007, Tom of Finland Foundation launched a traveling exhibition of over 100 artworks by the prolific artist, with 80+ works from the permanent collection, and around 20 more available for sale. The tour started out at Gallerie Richard in Paris, where Tom’s work was received with great fanfare. Then it was off to The Keith Talent Gallery in London.
One of the stolen works: Tom of Finland 1984 signed and dated rough sketch pencil on paper, 9 x 13”, Tom of Finland Foundation, USA
Soon after the opening, the gallery’s owners, Andrew Robert Clarkin and Simon Pittuck, contacted the Foundation saying they had sold one of Tom’s drawings. They requested a Certificate of Authenticity for the work, which Durk Dehner, the President and cofounder of the Foundation, signed and mailed to the gallery. All seemed in order until the show arrived at Galerie Espacio Minimo, its next destination in Madrid, and eight important works from the Permanent Collection were missing from the shipment.
Once Keith Talent gallery claimed that they had no idea where the missing works were, Dehner and the Foundation began to get concerned. After Keith Talent refused to file a claim with their insurance company (it later became evident that they had not secured insurance for Tom’s work), and after the gallery failed to pay the Foundation for sold work, Dehner enlisted the help of high-priced London lawyers, Scotland Yard, and, most importantly, the Tom of Finland network, which was able to send out an SOS alerting anyone who had recently bought Tom’s work that they may have been sold stolen goods. Eventually one anonymous but cooperative collector came forward with the work he thought he had purchased legally, and was willing to testify against Clarkin and Pittuck. During this time, the London gallery did curiously return five of the missing works to the Foundation, with a short note attached explaining that the work turned up in a room that, since the exhibition (more than a year earlier), had been turned into an artist’s studio.
Soon after, Scotland Yard raided the gallery and arrested the two owners. During the trial in January of this year it became evident that the two had knowingly sold work from the permanent collection, that Pittuck had had forged Certificates of Authenticity for the work, and that they had put money from the sale in a joint bank account. Because the two dealers had no priors and had lost all credibility in their profession, Clarkin’s 10 month, and Pittuck’s 14 month, prison sentences were suspended and they were ordered to each carry out 150 hours of community service, and pay £5,700 to the collector to whom they sold the drawings, as well as over £1,000 in legal fees. As of this writing they have failed to make their full payments on time and are expected to return to court soon. Tom of Finland Foundation has not received any compensation for expenses related to this trial and are considering filing a civil suit against the former gallery owners.
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