Mike Koozmin/The ExaminerRowland Weinstein hangs a Picasso on Monday that was stolen from his gallery earlier this year. The theft raised the piece’s value and lured visitors.

Picasso art theft gives San Francisco gallery a priceless boost

Although the apparent value of the Pablo Picasso sketch stolen last summer from a Union Square art gallery has surged, owner Rowland Weinstein said he’s no longer selling the work, which he put back on display Monday.

The notorious heist of Picasso’s 1965 pencil drawing “Tête de Femme” has brought so much foot traffic to the Weinstein Gallery that keeping it on display is more valuable than the art itself, Weinstein said.

“Every single solitary day, at least 10 people come into the gallery asking where the Picasso is,” the gallery president said. “It’s become such an important part, not just of our story, but I think the story of artwork in San Francisco.”

Weinstein acquired the sketch in May for $122,500. He planned to sell it for $275,000. Since the heist, one bidder has offered $375,000, Weinstein said.

“It’s hard to say what it’s worth,” he said.

The Picasso returned to Weinstein Gallery on the very same day that its thief was sentenced for his crime. Mark Lugo, 31, of Hoboken, N.J., became known as the “Thomas Crown of art thieves” after he waltzed out of the gallery with the sketch under his arm.

Lugo was sentenced to 16 months in jail and will soon be extradited to New York City to face charges that he stole more pricey art there. After his Bay Area arrest, New Jersey police raided Lugo’s Hoboken apartment and found 11 artworks allegedly stolen from Manhattan hotels and galleries.

The pieces were either hung on his walls or strewn about the apartment, leading police to conclude he was creating his own personal gallery. Lugo also is accused of stealing three rare bottles of wine worth $2,000 apiece from a New Jersey store.

On Monday, Weinstein revealed how police arrested Lugo and recovered the sketch within just 24 hours.

After swiping the art, Lugo fled in a taxi. He was captured on video inside the cab and also outside the posh Hotel Palomar, where he was staying.

Weinstein said Lugo made the mistake of telling the cab driver to drop him off at his hotel. Although Lugo then realized his mistake and asked to be dropped off elsewhere, the cabbie remembered the hotel and told police, Weinstein said.

Also, Lugo befriended a hotel employee and told her of his plans to visit friends in Napa. Police followed that tip and arrested Lugo there the following day.

The case will return to a San Francisco courtroom Dec. 21, where a judge will verify that Lugo has been extradited to New York, Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai said.

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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