The Edo-period statue is incredibly rare, meaning it wouldn't be easy to resell. Police are still unsure of the thief's motive.
Earlier this month, a thief executed a plan to steal a 250-pound Buddha statue from the Barakat Gallery on La Cienega Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.
In the dark of night, around 3 a.m., the thief backed a rental van into the gallery’s driveway, broke through a gate, and pushed a moving dolly through the storage yard. They made their way past various artifacts, including African wood carvings and Japanese terracotta roof tiles, to the $1.5 million bronze Buddha statue. The whole heist took around 25 minutes.
So far, police have not been able to identify the thief — or determine their motive.
“We’ve been trying to put the pieces together,” gallery director Paul Henderson told the Los Angeles Times.
Police and gallery staff watched and re-watched surveillance video that captured part of the crime and threw out several theories. Perhaps, they thought, the thief may be a connoisseur of Japanese temple art. Or maybe someone else hired the thief for the job. Or, there’s a chance the thief didn’t care about the artwork itself at all, but rather wanted to sell it off as scrap metal.
The sculpture stands about four feet tall and weighs roughly 250 pounds. It depicts a seated Buddha with a halo and was likely originally intended to be the centerpiece of a temple. It dates back to the Edo period, attributed to sculptor Tadazou Iinuma, according to The Art Newspaper.
An inscription on the statue translates to: “Produced by Tadazou Iinuma, first year of Shouho, Kanoe. Prayed for and requested by Ryozen, master of Shingon religious party, Dainichi-Nyorai, Yudo-no-San Temple, of the highest social class.”
“I prize it so much,” gallery owner Fayez Barakat told KTLA. “I had it in the backyard of my home and when I moved into this gallery, I put it in the backyard of the gallery for everybody to admire and enjoy.”
Barakat, who now lives in London, said he first acquired the Buddha statue 55 years ago and that there is no other piece in the world like it.
“I hope that the person who stole it is not stealing it for the weight of bronze because it’s a historical item,” Barakat said. “I’m heartbroken. Whoever stole it, maybe that person understood the value. Probably they commissioned somebody, a thief of some kind, to just go ahead and steal it.”
Gallery staff believe the theft was premeditated, as it seems like the thief specifically targeted the Buddha statue. There were, after all, hundreds of other artifacts he could have stolen.
“We have 200 objects back there, but this is our prize piece,” Henderson said. “I don’t think there’s another like it on the market anywhere. It’s four feet tall, it’s hollow cast bronze and it’s a stunning piece. It’s really aesthetically arresting and it’s shocking to see something like this go missing.”
The Buddha statue had never even been displayed in the gallery itself, nor was it listed on the store’s website. Instead, it was kept in a corner of a rear yard that wasn’t visible from the street. The theft is even more curious, Henderson added, because the uniqueness of the piece makes it near-impossible to resell.
“Because it’s an ancient artifact, there’s nowhere where you can sell this piece,” Henderson said. “You can’t go on the market. You can’t take it to a pawn shop and sell it for a few thousand dollars, it’s just not possible. So, it’s very interesting. It’s like a museum heist type thing where, what are you going to do with this object right now? We’re all very curious and really puzzled, to be honest.”
So far, police have not named any suspects, but they are on the lookout for any video surveillance from nearby businesses that could help identify the thief.