Stealing Murakami: The Plot Gets Still Thickerer

This was supposed to be a happy story, simple and just. Ring gets stolen. Ring gets recovered. Thief gets nabbed. Natural order is restored. Since the ring happened to be a rare, one-of-a-kind artwork from Takeshi Murakami, and that the theft happened during Art Basel, made it a story well worth telling. That the recovery took place in a pawn shop some two years later, just days before the ring was to be scrapped, and was only made possible by the keen eye of a certain David Tamargo, gave it a serendipitous slant — not to mention a storybook ending. Then the tale took turns no one could have envisioned.

First was the unequivocal “No Comment” from Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki studio, when by rights they should’ve been thanking their lucky stars the $72,500 ring was recovered. Then, as I reported Monday, it became clear that the bejeweled piece apparently wasn’t stolen from The Florida Room after all, but from the site of Basel satellite Design Miami, and rumor has it someone was paid a large chunk of change to keep mum. Worse, when Tamargo popped into Kaikai Kiki over Armory week in New York, he not only wasn’t thanked for what he’d so nobly done, but he was summarily booted from the studio.

Now I’ve learned that Kaikai Kiki has elected not to press charges, despite the due diligence of pawn shop owner Angel Parets and Miami Beach Police Department Detective Pete Rodriguez, who had a suspect in custody within 48 hours of the ring’s discovery. One would’ve thunk that Kaikai Kiki would be only to eager to prosecute; teach those crooks a hard lesson.

But don’t think for a moment that this case is closed. As the good Detective wrote last week when I asked for a copy of the original police report:

“The case is not closed as of yet due to my search for the actual thief of the ring has not concluded. The person who pawned the ring purchased or obtained the ring from another person. I am still looking for that person. I will advise you when the person is located.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were the culprit and I saw that a dogged detective was dogging me, I’d be a little nervous. Granted, Kaikai Kiki’s inexplicable move leaves the cops without much leverage and makes the case more difficult to pursue. Yet that hasn’t seemed to have deterred Detective Rodriguez. Nor has it deterred me. If anything it only makes me even more curious about Kaikai Kiki’s actions — and of their motive.

Frankly I couldn’t care less whether Kaikai Kiki filed a false police report (if indeed they did) or even if they’d paid off someone to keep it on the QT (if indeed they did that too). I’m no goody two-shoes; far from it. And I’m a firm believer in letting folks do what they’ve gotta do. But when what they do impacts a pal of mine, well, then I get cranky, and I get curious, and then I get to work. Had Kaikai Kiki simply said “Thank You” to the man who saved the ring from oblivion, I’d have left it at that. Had they gone on and offered Tamargo a reward, I’d have sung their praises from here to proverbial eternity. I mean, Tamargo went well out of his way to behave righteously. And all he got for his trouble was the pointed heel of a very obtuse boot. Why so kooky, Kaikai Kiki?

Takashi Murakami Ring Recovered in South Beach Pawn Shop

Last month, a one-of-a-kind Doruko (“skull”) ring created by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami was serendipitously recovered from Costa de Oro, a South Beach pawn shop just steps away from the Miami Beach Police Department’s Washington Avenue headquarters. The platinum and diamond artwork, which features Murakami’s iconic smiling daisies, had reportedly been stolen from the Delano Hotel’s Florida Room back in December 2008, after the conclusion of the Art Basel satellite fair, Design Miami.

It was spotted in the shop’s window by David Tamargo, the art director at the World Erotic Art Museum, and an upstairs neighbor to Costa de Oro. Tamargo, an artist in his own right, whose Urban Hunting has been featured here in BlackBook, stumbled upon the infamous ring purely by accident. He was surprised as anyone else to see it in a pawn shop window.

“First, I did a double take,” he told us. “Then I got closer to the window for a better look. Immediately I knew it was a Murakami. What I couldn’t imagine was why it was there. I mean, he’s one of the most famous artists on the planet!”

Murakami’s works are indeed collected by some of the world’s most recognizable names and generally sell for well into the six figures. Last month, at Christie’s auction house in London, a 2004 painting by the artist entitled “Skulls Rock” sold for 493,250 pounds (approximately $796, 651). According to police reports, the Dokuro ring’s value was estimated at $72,500. But neither Tamargo nor Costa de Oro’s Angel Parets knew that at the time.

“The shop owner told me he wanted $6000 for the ring,” continued Tamargo. “$6000! I couldn’t believe it! It was then that I knew something was wrong. So I immediately went upstairs and called Murakami’s New York office to tell them what I’d found.”

Unfortunately it was President’s Day, and the person who answered the telephone at Murakami’s Kaikai Kiki studio told Tamargo no one was in. So he left a message with his contact information and a word about his discovery. A few days later, Tamargo learned that the ring was about to be shipped to a Tokyo jewelry expo, to be either sold or scrapped, so he tried again, this time with some urgency.

“There was no way I was going to let this ring out of the country,” said Tamargo. “When no one from Murakami’s camp got in touch after the second call, I went to the bank and withdrew enough to buy it myself. By the time I got to the pawn shop I heard a Miami Beach detective had been by the museum to see me. That’s when I got the full story.”

That detective was 23-year veteran Pete Rodriguez, who handles pawn shops on Miami Beach. After Tamargo’s calls, Kaikai Kiki had contacted him regarding the theft. The detective wanted know how Tamargo had found something that was stolen over two years ago. image

“The people at Kaikai Kiki were understandably suspicious,” said Detective Rodriguez. “I think they’d long written off the loss. So when David phoned claiming to know the whereabouts of the ring, they called me.”

Together, Tamargo and Rodriguez went to Costa de Oro, where owner Angel Parets not only put the ring on hold, but provided Rodriguez with the name, address and photo of the man who’d pawned it. A suspect was in custody within 48 hours.

“If you sell stolen goods to Costa de Oro,” said Parets, “you not only will be prosecuted; you will be convicted.”

While the fate of the suspect in the Murakami theft is still in question, Parets does mention that since Rodriguez came on to the detail in January of 2010 there’s been a “one hundred percent conviction rate.” Considering the way pawn shop owners are often portrayed or considered, it is an achievement Parets is understandably proud to share. The 33-year veteran of the trade is equally proud of his relationship with the Miami Beach Police Department, specifically Detective Rodriquez, who he considers “exemplary” and “outstanding.”

“Without a good relationship,” says Parets, “there’s no retrieval, no returns and no conviction. Since Pete has come on board we’ve worked closely together. And between our documentation and his resources and talents, we’re able to favorably resolve any questionable transaction.”

The detective, in turn, is equally effusive about Parets, who he credits with due diligence and eager assistance. Rodriguez also says Parets is “an upstanding citizen” and “a pretty nice guy.”

Tamargo also received Rodriquez’s thanks, as well as some credit for his “vital role” in the ring’s recovery. As the detective would come to learn from Parets, had Tamargo not stumbled upon the ring, it’s likely no one would’ve ever seen it again.

“I didn’t know Takashi Murakami,” said Parets, who still sounded surprised by the whole ordeal. “I was going to sell it for scrap. That David happened to see the ring before I could was a one-in-a-million shot. One-in-a-million. I’m glad he did though.”

We can only assume Kaikai Kiki, who had “no comment” for the story, are happy with the results. Photo Credit: Robert Harbour