Police seek help to trace Hotere work

Police are asking the public to help them find a stolen drawing by artist Ralph Hotere.

A 55-year-old Dunedin man was this week convicted of stealing the drawing, Black Window, which is estimated to be worth about $18,000.

Unusually, the drawing has been seen by only a few people, including Hotere, the owner and some of her friends.

In fact, during the trial, the defence claimed there was no evidence the drawing existed. But police say the existence of the Hotere drawing is "indisputable".

Detective Sergeant Brett Roberts, who headed the police investigation, yesterday released an impression of Black Window as drawn by its owner.

"I believe someone has either purchased the work unaware it was stolen, or it has been hidden," Mr Roberts said.

"Someone with artworld connections, or perhaps a member of the public, will have knowledge of the missing Hotere."

The Black Window work was entrusted to the man who has now been convicted of its theft in April 2001 for repair to glass in its frame.

The owner occasionally visited the man between August 2001 and April last year. When she asked where the drawing was, he offered various excuses as to why it was not available.

Initial police contact with the man was in April last year after he ceased contact with the owner and made no reply to a lawyer's letter.

After police involvement, the man tried to contact the owner and left a message on her answer-phone stating he felt terrible. He was really sorry and it was the worst day of his life.

The owner rang back to say she would not talk to him without someone else present.

In May last year, the man provided to police a framed Hotere drawing named Window In Spain. He was sure it was the one he had been given for glass repair. The man was subsequently charged with stealing Black Window, between April 18, 2001, and April 14 last year. He pleaded not guilty.

The case was part-heard in December and concluded in the Dunedin District Court on Wednesday, with "expert witness" evidence from now-retired Marshall Seifert, the former owner of the gallery of the same name in Dunedin.

Mr Seifert, who established the work's value at the time of the theft as about $18,000, had not seen the still-missing original drawing. But he said over the years he had assessed most types of Hotere's works, including his drawings. He was also able to look at a drawing made by the owner of her recollection of Black Window.

The man charged with the theft elected not to give evidence.

Judge Gary MacAskill, of Christchurch, found the charge proved and dealt with him by conviction and financial penalty - a $2500 fine, reparation $18,000, court costs $130, witnesses' expenses $50.

The judge refused to continue name suppression but the man has appealed this decision.

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES

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