Art Crime

Take on the role of an art detective and investigate the history of famous art crimes, including high-profile heists and forgery cases. Learn the basics of art law as well as a variety of techniques to spot the difference between what is real and what is fake art.


From the looting of antiquities to Nazi theft to the seizure of paintings right off museum walls, the world of international art crime is both fascinating and diverse. In a dynamic learning environment that supplements class time with site visits and guest lectures from world-renowned art crime specialists, students will engage in an intensive study of this high-stakes arena, where millions of dollars as well as the reputations of premier cultural institutions and experts are on the line. Students will learn how fakes enter the art market and what methods are used to determine whether a work of art is authentic or a forgery, as well as investigate how and when stolen or looted works are returned to their rightful owners. Hands-on activities such as a connoisseurship workshop will allow students to engage directly with art objects.


Using case studies of the most notable art crimes of the past three centuries, students will be introduced to basic legal and ethical issues specific to the art market, guided by an expert educator and an internationally renowned art law specialist. Students will discover how two unarmed men posing as police officers could steal a dozen famous artworks valued at nearly $500 million right off the walls of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Students will also look at works of art stolen by the Nazis that were then ultimately returned to their rightful heirs, such as the captivating case of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, currently in the collection of New York’s Neue Galerie, and profiled in the 2015 film Woman in Gold.


Site Visits
Visits will include a combination of trips to major New York City art museums and galleries, as well as other places related to art crime.


In the past, site visits have included:

  • Sotheby’s auction house
  • The Old Masters collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, highlighting works whose authenticity has been questioned by experts
  • Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer at the Neue Galerie in New York
  • Columbia University’s collection of forgeries


Guest Speakers
Students will hear firsthand from auction house specialists, art lawyers, and forensic experts about the topics that shape our understanding of art crime.


In the past, guest speakers have included:

  • Speakers from the Art Crime Unit of the FBI
  • Art historians & art crime authors
  • Art lawyers
  • Forensic scientists
  • Auction house experts
  • Art insurers & handlers


Please note: This information is subject to change at any time at the discretion of Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Term Dates

Term dates and course availability depend heavily on instructors’ schedules.

  • Term 2 July 21 to August 2

All courses are open to rising 10th – 12th graders and graduating seniors. Explore the full summer schedule.

View Summer Schedule

Course Highlights

Summer Institute enables students to dive deep into a course of study, sharpening skills for their academic and professional careers. Each course is carefully designed to suit student interests and encourage intellectual curiosity.

  • 1

    Students will study and take tours of auction houses, galleries, and museums, especially those recently affected by art crime cases such as the Neue Galerie and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students will learn how museums handle suspected forgeries and looted works in their collections and will also hear from art restitution specialists. If an art crime case is open during this session, students will study and discuss the most recent developments in the case.

  • 2

    Students will interact with guest speakers from the justice system who will discuss their experiences with some of the most infamous art crimes and the recent founding of an international art tribunal in The Hague in Holland. The course discusses notable art crime cases and ongoing international issues such as the restitution of looted art and copyright/fair use cases.

  • 3

    This course is ideal for students who love true crime and detective work, are inherently curious, and are interested in law and ethics. Students will learn the basic methods of spotting fakes and forgeries and delve into the fascinating histories of well-known art crimes as well as gain a basic understanding of the legal frameworks that govern the art world.

  • 4

    Students will engage with art objects to discover some of the techniques that forgers use and how to spot them, as well as partake in hands-on projects that demonstrate how artwork is assessed and analyzed by professionals.

Summer Institute Faculty

Our instructors are award-winning Sotheby's Institute faculty, recognized thought leaders and professional experts in the art world. Each faculty member structures their course around real-time conversations defining their professions and helps students master the unique forces at play in the art world.

Summer Institute Faculty

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