“This is the best news I could get on a Monday morning. I’m super stoked. Especially the Mandela painting,” said artist Amar Stewart on the phone from the Cotton Candy Machine, about to toast to their safe return over beers with gallery co-owner Sean Leonard.
During a show on March 1 marking the end of Stewart’s month-long residency at the gallery, Louis Lassalle allegedly made off with three paintings. Leonard caught Lassalle in a footchase and he was arrested and indicted for burglary, larceny and robbery. Stewart’s portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, which had also been taken, was found wedged between a nearby fence and railing that same evening.
A plea deal was only possible for Lassalle if the paintings were returned, Leonard said. This morning, he got a call asking him to come identify the two works at Lassalle’s lawyer’s office, near the Borough Hall subway station. Leonard and Stewart were not told where the paintings had been found, although they were not necessarily in Lassalle’s possession — he was just complicit in their return.
“They’re in great shape,” said Leonard, noting that the paintings were wrapped up and in plastic bags when he first saw them today at the lawyer’s office.
The Cotton Candy Machine is closed on Mondays. Tomorrow afternoon, Leonard and Stewart will host a press event at the gallery, announcing the details of an event to be held this Saturday, where the recovered paintings will be put back on display.