Did Sag Harbor Perp Smash a Rotten Pumpkin or Priceless Fine Art?

Foot smashing the rotten pumpkin/art caught on video
The rotten pumpkin/art crime caught on video, Photo: kalozzolak, Viorel Sima, feverpitched/123RF

Two Hamptons Police Department officers have found themselves in the middle of a fine art fight both say falls way outside their area of expertise.

According to court filings, the local beat cops were called to the home of Sag Harbor gallery owner Rose Plátano on November 19 after she reported that a “near priceless” work of art had been destroyed outside her home during the previous night. Upon reaching the scene, instead of finding a beautiful marble statue shattered or modern oil painting defaced, the officers learned Plátano was in bits because someone had smashed a pumpkin that had been rotting on her front porch since early October.

It turns out, the pumpkin—which was literally just a pumpkin that had been signed with a black Sharpie marker—was actually a conceptual sculpture called “The Death of Tradition” by Hungarian art world sensation and Hamptons regular Nisan Täuschen. Plátano provided paperwork proving she paid $750,000 for the pumpkin, which Täuschen had personally installed on her front porch and then signed with the Sharpie on October 5.

The pumpkin/sculpture was then left to rot in order to “evolve into its final state and deliver its dark message,” Plátano told police, noting that this never came to pass because vandals, or perhaps some thoughtful art critics, had “kicked-in and destroyed the piece before it reached maturity.”

Despite reservations about treating the destruction of a rotten pumpkin with the severity they’d have to dispense toward someone who illegally demolished a Lamborghini Aventador, police took the report and launched a massive and far-reaching investigation into the crime, using all available resources. Thanks to a CCTV video camera Plátano installed to document the pumpkin’s “beautiful and poignant decay,” police were able to see the suspect’s sneakers, which became their first major lead.

After nearly a month of investigation, including dozens of calls and visits to area sneaker businesses, detectives eventually tracked down and arrested a 17-year-old known troublemaker from Sag Harbor. “Because the suspect is a minor, we’re not releasing his name, but it’s safe to say the kid is in a heap of trouble,” HPD spokesman Rex Gallant said, noting that the boy’s parents are refuting the pumpkin’s value and mounting a strong legal opposition to the charges.

The case will go to trial early in the new year. Meanwhile, the aggrieved Plátano says she’s reached out to Täuschen, but the artist has not yet found an “inspired replacement,” so she is unable to recreate “The Death of Tradition” to a satisfactory degree.

“It’s a head scratcher, to be sure,” Gallant said, admitting, “I’m not much of an art guy—few cops are—but this one is strange even for art guys.”

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