Stolen, Forged, and Looted: Intro to Art Crime

Art crimes are a threat to our cultural identity. Investigate famous cases alongside experts and learn what techniques are used to uncover fakes, forgeries, and thefts.


From the looting of antiquities to Nazi theft to the seizure of paintings right off museum walls, the world of art crime is as fascinating as it is diverse. Millions of dollars as well as reputations of premier art institutions and experts are on the line in this high-stakes arena. Have you ever wondered how fakes enter the market? What methods are used to determine whether a work is authentic or a forgery? How are suspected art crimes investigated? How and when are works restituted to their rightful owners? What are the most provocative and notorious instances of art theft and forgery?


This exciting course asks these questions and more. Using case studies of the most notorious art crimes of the past two centuries, students will be introduced to the basic legal and ethical issues specific to the art market. Students will learn the basic techniques for spotting forgeries from the people who investigate them for a living at auction houses and galleries. Ever wonder how one man in a garage could forge works by famous artists, such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock, then sell them to gallerists who would later resell them for upwards of $80 million? Or how two unarmed men posing as police officers could steal 13 famous artworks valued at nearly $500 million right off the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston—and never be caught? Students will look in depth at the captivating case of Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I (now hanging in New York’s Neue Galerie), at the Nazi theft of the painting and the restitution to its rightful heir—a case that was profiled in the 2015 film The Woman in Gold. Students will have the opportunity to study these fascinating cases and more.


Site Visits
Visits will include a combination of trips to museums, galleries, auction houses, and other art institutions and businesses that have or can be affected by art crimes.


In the past, site visits have included:

  • Sotheby’s auction house
  • The Klimt portraits in The Neue Galerie
  • The Old Masters collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The headquarters of the AXA Art Insurance Agency
  • Arcis, a high-tech art storage facility
  • Columbia University’s art museum


Guest Speakers
Students will hear first-hand about how to spot a fake, how art criminals were able to pull off their crimes, how these crimes are prevented, how cases are litigated, and more.


In the past, guest speakers have included:

  • Speakers from the Art Crime Unit of the F.B.I.
  • Art Lawyers
  • Forensic scientists
  • Auction house experts
  • Art insurers & handlers


Materials Fee: $195


Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art-New York.

Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 2 June 21 to July 3

This summer, we’re offering 14 unique courses for Summer Institute students. All courses are open to rising 10th – 12th graders and graduating seniors. Explore the full summer schedule to learn more about course dates.

View Summer Schedule

What is an Intensive?

Intensives immerse students in a single subject area for the entire two-week Institute term, with the goal of cultivating comprehensive knowledge of that discipline. This thorough approach to learning enables students to develop deeper insights about the field by closely investigating its inner workings.

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will visit auction houses, galleries, and museums, especially those most recently affected by art crimes, such as the Neue Gallery and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students will learn how museums handle suspected forgeries in their collections and will also hear from art restitution specialists. If an art crime case is open during this session, students will visit the courthouse to hear an oral argument.

  • 2

    Students will hear first-hand about some of the most infamous art crimes from people who helped bring them to justice.

  • 3

    This course is ideal for students who love true crime and detective work, are inherently curious, and interested in law and ethics. Students will learn the basic methods of spotting fakes and forgeries, and they will delve into the fascinating histories of art crimes.

  • 4

    Students will handle art objects suspected to be fakes and forgeries behind the scenes at a museum to discover some of the scientific techniques that forgers use and how to spot them.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

Experience New York

  • New York City New York City

    With New York City as their campus, students will have access to all the city has to offer, attending field trips, site visits and special events.

  • Speaker Series Speaker Series

    Summer Institute students have unique opportunities to connect with the most accomplished artists and art professionals working today.

  • Housing Housing

    Summer Institute students have the option of living on campus in the university dormitories or commuting to class from their local residence.

  • Dining Dining

    University cafeteria-style dining halls serve a wide variety of healthy alternatives for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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