Arts & Humanities Campus News

Kota Ezawa reenvisions missing masterpieces

Kota Ezawa (Japanese-German, b. 1969), “The Concert,” 2015. Duratrans transparency and LED light box, 28 1/2 × 25 1/2 inches. Collection of Nion McEvoy. (Submitted photo)

More than 30 years ago, thieves disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, tied up the night guards and stole paintings, including ones by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer. Despite this act being one of the largest art heists in history, the case remains cold and the art is still missing.

The traveling exhibition “Kota Ezawa: The Crime of Art” will be on display at the Georgia Museum of Art through Dec. 5. The exhibition includes 13 works of art that pay homage to the objects stolen during the Gardner Museum heist in 1990.

California-based artist Kota Ezawa uses light boxes, color-blocked graphics and video animation to re-create the missing masterpieces. Although his re-creations are simplified, they remain instantly recognizable, which illustrates the hold that certain images have over viewers. The museum heist has resurfaced in pop culture through the Netflix series “This Is a Robbery,” which explains the evidence found to date.

Ezawa uses paintings by famous artists to create images that are both original and not original simultaneously. Much of his work provides commentary on how modern media “steals” art and ideas by blurring the lines between what is private property and what is public knowledge. As a result, crime is a recurring theme.

“It is always interesting to see a dialogue between past and present and to have a contemporary artist like Kota Ezawa take on the idea of appropriation and originality. I was especially intrigued by the artist’s statement about this project: ‘I feel compelled to produce an exhibition dealing with “stolen artworks” because my own process could be regarded as a form of image theft. One could say I’m hoping to steal these images back and give them a new life,’” said Nelda Damiano, the museum’s Pierre Daura Curator of European Art and the in-house curator for this exhibition.

This exhibition was organized by SITE Santa Fey with the Mead Art Museum.

Related events include:

  • A talk by Kota Ezawa on Sept. 7 at the museum.
  • A Family Day To-Go Sept. 9-12, as part of which families can pick up free art kits and an activity guide at the museum.
  • A film series Sept. 16, 23 and 30, showing the movies “Stolen,” “How to Steal a Million” and “Topkapi” at the museum.
  • Toddler Tuesday on Sept. 21 at the museum for ages 18 months to 3 years (email to sign up).
  • Student Week, organized by the Georgia Museum of Art Student Association and running Sept. 23-26.
  • Teen Studio: Art Heist on Sept. 23 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. (email to sign up).
  • A talk by Anthony Amore, director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, on Oct. 14 at 5:30 p.m.

All events are free and open to the public. Film series and Student Week are sponsored by the UGA Parents Leadership Council. Family Day To-Go kits are sponsored by Heyward Allen Motor Co. Inc., Heyward Allen Toyota and the Friends of the Georgia Museum of Art.