Updated: February 11, 2021 06:23 PM
Created: February 11, 2021 12:50 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The person allegedly responsible for removing a valuable piece of art from the Memorial Art Gallery was arraigned Thursday.
George Haag, 37, is charged with attempted grand larceny in the second degree. He pleaded not guilty and said in a statement to police that he "did not intend to take the print" and that he "just wanted to make people laugh."
Haag said he was on his daily walk when he passed by the MAG and decided to go in. He says he walked in without paying, claiming he didn't know he was supposed to pay, and spent about an hour perusing the exhibits before finding the Warhol collection. In his statement to police, he said he thought to himself "that Warhol would look better somewhere else." He says he flipped a coin to determine whether or not to take the piece.
The artwork in question is not a piece by Andy Warhol. It's a 1986 print of Andy Warhol by artist Robert Mapplethorpe valued at $60,000. MAG Director Jonathan Binstock says the suspect only got a few feet with the piece in his hands before he was spotted by a museum security ambassador.
"The attentiveness, the responsiveness, the immediacy of the response by the security ambassador caused this person to put the work of art down, and to exit the gallery," Binstock said.
Then why, if he was caught in the act, would the museum let him go? That's what News10NBC asked Binstock.
"None of us on the MAG staff is well prepared to physically detain someone," Binstock said. "In fact, we advise all of our staff members to not physically retain, detain a suspect."
Instead, the security ambassador followed protocol and alerted University of Rochester security dispatch. Binstock said that the security system worked how it's supposed to work, and he wouldn't really change anything about how the incident was handled by MAG staff. Other than reviewing security footage and eyewitness accounts, it's unclear what methods museum staff used to identify the suspect after he left the gallery.
"I'm not going to share with you the details of that," Binstock said. "I would prefer to just let it be said that the systems work really well, and it's better if I don't share the details in that regard."
Copyright 2021 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company