In May 2018, law enforcement announced that the 2017 slashing of a Christopher Wool painting in Aspen’s Opera Gallery was carried out by Nicholas Morley, the son of the painting’s owner. Documents say Morley, 40, flew from London to Denver under a fake name the day before the painting was slashed. He then rented a car and flew back to England two days later.
Aspen police and prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Morley, 40, charging him with felony criminal mischief. He faces 12-18 months in prison if convicted; his current whereabouts are unknown.
The painting, which since has been repaired, was owned by Morley’s father, Harold Morley of Barbados. Documents claim that at the time, in correspondence with the art gallery after the slashing, Nick Morley asked a gallery manager to deem the damage “an accident” and to persuade the police of the same.
His father also asked the gallery to “calm” the investigation and said he would not file an insurance claim over the slashing. On May 5, 2017, Harold Morley sent a letter to the gallery saying that the painting “can be easily restored” and that he did not plan on filing an insurance claim. Further, he asked the gallery to put out a statement “refuting” an Aspen Times story about the slashing “and stating that it was only a minor incident,” according to the affidavit.
A day later, he wrote a text message to the gallery’s manager, asking him to “defuse any idea that the painting is destroyed or even devalued.” He said he wanted to block or remove online video of the slashing, restore the painting, and quickly sell it - and “if asked by anyone, we laugh it off as actually making the work intrinsically more valuable.” “We could even put it up for sale now for $3.5m on the basis it is ‘famous,‘” he wrote. Still, he said, “Since we are not making an insurance claim, there is no reason why the recollection of the incident should not be eliminated as quickly as possible from staff and public. Then it just becomes ‘folklore.'”
Nick Morley, for his part, denies the claims. "Regarding the painting, I did not cause the damage,“ he said in a statement initially released by his Aspen lawyer only to The Times of London newspaper. "I was the beneficial owner of the painting at the time. Any suggestion that I damaged my own property is based on speculation and circumstantial evidence. At no time have I sought to claim any financial benefit from the damage to the painting and simply wanted to privately deal with the matter.”
(Nick Morley is pictured above, following his 2007 conviction in Macedonia for killing an elderly couple he crashed into during a road race for the wealthy called the Gumball 3000 Rally.)
Christopher Wool “Untitled 2004″ / knife
In May 2017, this wall-sized painting was punctured with a knife while on view at Aspen’s Opera Gallery.
An unknown man wearing sunglasses, a hat and a full beard entered the gallery (after stopping the door to prevent being locked inside), made a beeline for the painting and slashed the canvas twice with a knife or razor blade before running out. No motive is apparent, and no arrests have been made. The gallery’s owner said he has no idea what prompted the vandalism, but in recent weeks had received three suspicious calls from a man using a blocked phone number asking if the gallery had a Wool painting.
The painting itself was damaged beyond repair, though it still hangs in the gallery. It was being sold on consignment, he said.
“On it’s face, it’s extremely suspicious,” Aspen Police Detective Jeff Fain said. “There has to be a reason someone would want to destroy this painting.”