In 1998, a frantic New York photo dealer contacted the Art Theft Detail. The dealer had driven to the Los Angeles area from San Francisco in order to show a client a rare, valuable photogram by Russian painter and designer El Lissitzky (1891-1941). On the day of his meeting, the dealer discovered the photo missing from his hotel room in Santa Monica.
The untitled mannequin study had been exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in the past and was valued at $200,000. The photo, made during the 1920s, actually belonged to a collector in New York who had consigned it to the photo dealer.
The Art Theft Detail prepared a Stolen Art Bulletin that was distributed to the art community. This information was also digitized and placed on the LAPD Art Theft Detail website.
The investigation languished for five years until detectives received a phone call from the manager of a hotel in Oakland, California. A portfolio containing a framed photo was first discovered in the hotel luggage storage room in 1999. No owner could be identified and the manager was unaware of the photo’s value. A Guggenheim Museum label was noted on the back of the frame so the manager called the museum and left a message, but no one returned the call. The photo was returned to the storage room where it remained unclaimed for another four years.
In 2002, as a last resort, the manager researched the artist’s name on the internet. The manager learned that LAPD’s Art Theft Detail had information about a stolen Lissitzky photo. He phoned the art detective who immediately recognized the photo as the one reported stolen in 1998.