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De Kooning painting stolen from UA Museum of Art going back on display

By Greg Hahne, Steve Goldstein
Published: Friday, May 27, 2022 - 11:50am
Updated: Friday, May 27, 2022 - 12:11pm

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University of Arizona Museum of Art
"Woman-Ochre" by Willem de Kooning, 1954-1955, 30 in. x 40 in., oil on canvas

After a Willem de Kooning painting was stolen from the University of Arizona Museum of Art 30 years ago, it will finally be back up on display.

As the story goes, in 1985, a man named Jerome Alter — allegedly aided by family members — took the piece to his New Mexico home and hung it on the wall. It stayed there until an art appraiser was hired to assess the Alter family’s estate five years ago and discovered that "Woman-Ochre" was the original de Kooning painting. Some say it could be worth $100 million now to certain collectors.

Olivia Miller, the curator of exhibitions at the University of Arizona Museum of Art, says the team is ecstatic to see it again.

"It’s really quite overwhelming. You know, none of us who work here at the museum had ever seen it in person — we only knew of it in photographs. And so to have it come back and be hanging on our walls again, it’s the absolute best outcome we ever could have wished for," Miller said.

Upon the painting’s recovery, the University of Arizona got in touch with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where the work was restored; it had flaking and tears due to being ripped and cut from its lining. It will be on display there from June 7 through Aug. 28 before it returns to Tucson on Oct. 8.

Ulrich Birkmaier is the head of painting conservation at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

The Show spoke with him about the painting, and began the conversation by asking him to assess whether the thieves were truly art lovers, considering their method of stealing the de Kooning.

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