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Fortune in Warhol Pop Art stolen

Thieves took 'The Athletes,' a series done in the 1970s featuring such figures as Dorothy Hamill, Muhammad Ali and O.J. Simpson.

September 12, 2009|Joel Rubin

A multimillion-dollar collection of original work by famed Pop Art icon Andy Warhol was stolen last week from a Los Angeles home, police said Friday.

On Sept. 3, a housekeeper for noted art collector Richard L. Weisman walked into the dining room of Weisman's residence and saw that 11 large portraits that had been on the walls the day before were gone, according to Det. Donald Hrycyk, head of the LAPD's art theft detail.

The housekeeper called police, and investigators soon brought in Hrycyk, who has spent years chasing forgers and thieves in the shady art underworld. There was no sign of forced entry into the home and nothing else had been disturbed, including several other Warhol pieces on nearby walls, Hrycyk said.

Police have no immediate leads or suspects other than a vague description of a maroon-colored van that, according to a witness, might have been in the driveway about the time of the theft. A $1-million reward has been offered by an anonymous source for information leading to the recovery of the paintings, police said.

Weisman left the house the day before the housekeeper discovered the art missing, making it unclear exactly when the theft occurred, police said.

The former investment banker comes from a renowned family of collectors. His parents, Frederick and Marcia, were important figures in art circles, amassing a significant collection that centered on works by post-World War II artists. The younger Weisman was friends with Warhol and commissioned the square, brightly colored silk screen paintings of famous athletes in the late 1970s -- a period when Warhol produced hundreds of works for wealthy patrons able to pay the large sums the artist charged.

Though not considered by collectors to be examples of Warhol's best work, "The Athletes" series is well-known.

"I commissioned him to do this set of athletes because, generally speaking, the worlds of art and sports don't mesh that well," Weisman said in a recent interview with The Times.

Weisman, who could not be reached for comment, last lent out the collection, which includes the likenesses of Dorothy Hamill, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and Chris Evert, in May for a benefit exhibition that also featured the artwork of underprivileged children living in Watts.

The investigation is particularly complicated because the stolen portraits belong to one of several sets Warhol made of the athletes. Each set has a different color scheme, but they look similar. Weisman is thought to own several of the sets himself, police said. Hrycyk said police are working to identify the other sets in an effort to avoid confusion over which portraits are missing. The FBI and Interpol, which maintain databases of stolen art, will be notified, the detective added.

The total value of the work could not immediately be discerned. However, Tyler Lemkin, director of the Greenfield Sacks Gallery in Santa Monica, which recently opened a show of Warhol prints, said that original Warhol paintings on canvas such as the ones that were stolen "start in the high six figures or $1 million."

"This is a huge deal. You're talking about a major collector who has lost a significant amount of important art," Lemkin said.

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joel.rubin@latimes.com

Times art critic Christopher Knight contributed to this report

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