The press spokesperson for the National Gallery, Washington, alerted me late Friday to a breaking development in the case of the attack on its beloved treasure—Degas’ unique, original wax version of “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen”: The two alleged perpetrators—Timothy Martin of North Carolina and Joanna Smith of New York, both 53, were taken into custody on May 26 after surrendering to authorities, “following an indictment charging conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and injury to a National Gallery of Art exhibit,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office press release.
When I asked the National Gallery for a statement responding to these arrests, its spokesperson told me this:
The National Gallery of Art appreciates the excellent and swift work by the U.S. Park Police, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to bring these serious criminal charges [emphasis added].
Because the NGA receives annual federal appropriations, the attack is being treated as an alleged offense against the nation, not just against the museum.
Here’s how the indictment described the alleged crime:
According to the indictment, unsealed today, Martin and Smith smeared paint on the case and base of Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer, Age Fourteen,” a priceless work of art which has drawn visitors for years to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Following the attack, a group called Declare Emergency claimed credit. Over the last year, in addition to this offense, Declare Emergency has blocked roadways around the Washington, D.C. area.
The indictment further alleges that Martin and Smith agreed, along with other currently uncharged co-conspirators, to enter the National Gallery of Art for the purpose of injuring the exhibit. Martin and Smith entered the National Gallery of Art armed with plastic water bottles filled with paint. Martin and Smith handed their phones to other conspirators and waited until patrons cleared the area in front of the Little Dancer. Martin and Smith proceeded to smear paint on the case and base of the exhibit, at times smacking the case with force. [I had noted in my Apr. 27 blog post about the attack that the WaPo video showed the perpetrators “thumping loudly and forcefully on the case with their paint-smeared hands.”]
Prior to the attack, members of the conspiracy had alerted the Washington Post, and two reporters from the Post recorded and photographed the offense [emphasis added]. Additionally, other members of the conspiracy filmed and photographed the offense. Smith and Martin caused approximately $2,400 in damage and the exhibit was removed from public display for ten days so that it could be repaired.
Each charge carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The maximum statutory sentence for federal offenses is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
What most surprises me about this bizarre incident is the seeming complicity of the Washington Post, which, according to the indictment, was given advance notice of the attack so that its journalists could “record and photograph” the misdirected protest against climate change. Here’s the WaPo article on the event, which includes a video of the attack by “John Farrell, Jackson Barton/The Washington Post” and photos of the incident by the author of the newspaper’s article—“Ellie Silverman/The Washington Post.”
It seems to me that if these journalists knew that a crime was about to be committed in a museum, they had a responsibility to head it off by notifying authorities. Instead, they gave the attackers exactly what they wanted—prominent publicity for their senseless alleged attack on a valuable, publicly cherished masterpiece.
The Washington Post owes art lovers a mea culpa.
On a happier note: Here’s the National Gallery’s May 8 tweeted accelerated video of the return of “Dancer” to her display case, accompanied by the signature theme of Tchaikovsky‘s “Swan Lake.”
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