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Priceless book cover

With Blaffer closed for the renovation, we’re committed to offering unique off-site exhibitions and events to keep you engaged. In June, we presented our second installment of the Window into Houston series at 110 Milam Street; be sure to check out Patrick Renner’s window that he created with students from the Young Artist Apprenticeship Program before it closes at the end of September. And speaking of September and unique activities, we have a real treat in store for you this fall. Working with a host of other departments on campus — Law Center, Honors College, College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Student Program Board, Alumni Association, and Office of Human Resources — as well as the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, KUHF 88.7 FM, the UH School of Theatre, and Dance and Brazos Bookstore, we are thrilled to present two lectures on September 8 by noted art crime detective Robert Wittman. The event is underwritten by Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.

Wittman after saving Goya painting

Robert K. Wittman is the former senior investigator and founder of the FBI’s National Art Crime Team and author of the New York Times best seller Priceless. The son of antique dealers, Wittman was well acquainted with the business of rare, high-priced artworks long before his law enforcement career. In 1988, he brought his knowledge of the art world to the FBI. Assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division, Wittman went into action tracking down stolen art. As documented in Priceless, Wittman has recovered numerous major works of cultural and historical significance. In the process, he also brought a host of criminals to justice. Some of his career highlights include:

  • Recovering $50 million worth of Goya and Brueghel paintings from a Spanish mobster
  • Catching an appraiser turned con man who used PBS’ Antiques Roadshow to steal countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants
  • Rescuing the Rodin sculpture that launched the Impressionist movement
  • Recovering the golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king
  • Saving an original copy of the Bill of Rights that had been believed lost for 100 years

Wittman on The Colbert Report

He will present the lecture “Pursuing the Priceless: Stolen Art, Investigation and the Law” at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston’s Brown Auditorium (1001 Bissonnet. St.) at 7 p.m., September 8. Tickets for this event are $10. Seating is limited. Wittman also will deliver a free lecture to members of the UH community at 9 a.m., September 8 in the university’s Elizabeth D. Rockwell Pavilion (second floor of the M.D. Anderson Library). Admission is free, but tickets and a UH ID are required. Seating is limited; reserved seats will be released five minutes before the lecture for visitors without a ticket. Click here to get tickets. 

Stephen Colbert show Wittman's book on The Colbert Report

Wittman was recently on Comedy Central’s hit satirical news show The Colbert Report. In the episode, host Stephen Colbert asked Wittman about art theft and what it’s like to be an undercover FBI agent. Here are some of Colbert’s laugh-out-loud interview questions:

  • They say it takes a thief; are you a cat burglar turned good?
  • How is art crime committed, because from the movies, you see a grid of lasers and Catherine Zeta Jones… [going through] the grid?
  • So art museums don’t have the giant doors that come closing down and Karari darts that hit you in the neck?
  • Do you ever go into a museum and look at a piece of art and you go, “I could steal that”?
  • Do you have a mustache and a beret … when you go undercover in the art world?
  • So you travel the world? You’re like Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair.

Go to Hulu to see Wittman’s reponses.

Wittman on The Colbert Report


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