Heist, recovery story of de Kooning painting to be turned into film

(Press staff photo by Annastashia Goolsby)
Rod Hassler, cameraman, and director Allison Otto took pictures of Rick Johnson on Thursday afternoon in a storage room at Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques for “The Heist”, a documentary showing the stolen de Kooning painting “Woman-Ocher” that was found. Owners Buck Burns, David Van Auker and Rick Johnson discovered the missing art when buying an estate 36 years after it was stolen from the University of Arizona Art Museum.

In a safe museum – the Art Museum of the University of Arizona in Tucson – cut out of its frame the day after Thanksgiving 1985, Willem de Kooning’s world-famous “Ocherin” was mysteriously discovered three decades later in Cliff, New Mexico, the long-term home by Jerry and Rita Alter, a recently deceased couple.

Now, 36 years after the infamous art heist, Oscar-winning writer Mark Monroe and Emmy-nominated director Allison Otto are planning to turn the long-standing secret into a documentary. The film is being produced by Los Angeles-based Museum + Crane and non-fiction studio XTR. Roots Productions will also support the project.

“The theft of ‘Woman-Ocher’ was one of the most fascinating art crimes of a generation,” Otto told Variety magazine. “As our team delved deep into the story, we discovered that the theft itself was just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface lies a perfect storm of eccentric characters, bizarre synchronicities and eccentric motivations, all held together by the irresistible power of ‘Woman-Ocher’. We are honored to be partnering with XTR to share this whimsical, mind-blowing story. “

The 1955 abstract expressionism oil painting was donated to the United States in 1957 by Edward Joseph Gallagher Jr., who bought the painting from de Kooning.

However, the disappearance of “Woman-Ocher” is only half of the epic story. The other half relies on the owners of Manzanita Ridge Furniture and Antiques in Silver City, Rick Johnson, Buck Burns, and David Van Auker, who bought the property from ages and found the painting behind the late couple’s bedroom door.

“It was one of those moments when I think I’m dreaming,” said Van Auker. “It was really a shock. Before we had our business we were antique dealers, and every single antique dealer around the world has the imagination to do just that. That’s something you envision your entire career, and here it is – not only did you find this very valuable object, it’s part of the story. “

As expected, the whole experience attracted many interested people to Manzanita Ridge in two big steps: one after the painting was found and the other after it was sent to the J. Paul Getty Museum for restoration. Van Auker expects a third surge when the documentary is revealed.

“It’s a great platform to add a little sparkle to an already shiny Grant County,” said Burns. “When this all started there was so much great coverage for our community – it would be great for our communities to benefit from this story. We had tourists from all over the world come here, not only to Manzanita Ridge, but also to Silver City and the surrounding area. It would be great to be used as positive reflection on what our church is about. It is great and amazing that we are becoming part of this place and part of a great story. “

While the owners of Manzanita Ridge are thrilled to be a part of the story and witness the transformation of a major personal event into a movie, Van Auker has been informed that if this documentary will get “the backing they’ve hoped for – which they now have – to to make it a major [release]will they use this as a stepping stone to make an actual movie. “

This sparked some controversial sentiment for Van Auker, who said he thought it was great that a movie could be made and that Hollywood could be interested, but “New Mexico has a huge film industry that is growing by leaps and bounds.”

“We have it all – producers, sound stages and the scenery – so why do we let people outside of the state make this film?” Van Auker said. “I don’t get it, because if Hollywood is keenly interested, why isn’t it our own state?” It just knocks me out. It’s right here in our own state, and if they make a movie, they probably won’t even make it in New Mexico. It just shocks me. “

The idea for a big movie has not yet been finalized, but the documentary is in the works without an official release date being announced.

“It’s a fascinating story, and the only people who know the whole story from our perspective are the three of us here on Manzanita Ridge,” said Burns.

Annastashia Goolsby can be reached at [email protected]

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