$5 million of ancient art destroyed at DMA in overnight break-in

A man who broke into the Dallas Museum of Art on Wednesday night caused roughly $5,153 million in damage, destroying property including three ancient Greek objects before he was arrested, Dallas police said.

Brian Hernan, 21, entrance, door at the museum’s glass entrance at 9:40 pm began destroying objects inside, police said.

Hernandez broke into a glass display case and shattered a 6th-century BC Greek amphora — a type of ceramic vase — and a Greek pot from 450 BC The pieces together were valued at approximately $5 million, police said, based on information from the DMA’s security and operations director, Kenneth Bennett. They noted that estimates could change after a final assessment by a curator and the museum’s insurers.

A Dallas Police Department crime scene analysis photographs Brian Hernandez outside the Dallas Museum of Art after he was apprehended Wednesday.(Avi Adelman)

He is also accused of destroying a 550–530 BC bowl that was valued at $100.000. Police said he broke into a display case, picked up a ceramic Caddo effigy bottle depicting an alligator gar and slammed it to the ground, shattering it. The piece was valued at $10,000.

“This was an isolated incident perpetrated by one individual acting alone, whose intent was not theft of art or any objects on view,” museum officials said in a statement Thursday. “However, some works of art were damaged, and we are still in the process of assessing the extent of the damages.”

The museum is open to the public Thursday, including its “Cartier and Islamic Art” exhibition. Some permanent collections will be closed for the ongoing investigation.

The shattered objects are among more than 24,000 works in the DMA’s cross-cultural collection, which spans 5,000 years. Even with their price tags, they’re hardly the costliest items the museum has housed. For eight months in 2012, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci now considered the world’s most valuable artwork reclined on an easel in a storeroom in the building. It sold at auction to the Saudi crown prince for a record $450.3 million in 2017.

Broken glass lies at the entrance to the DMA on Wednesday night.  Police said the suspect...
Broken glass lies at the entrance to the DMA on Wednesday night. Police said the suspect approached the museum with a metal chair before breaking in.(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

Hernandez was read his rights and confessed to officers, police said. He was charged with criminal mischief of more than or equal to $300,000. Bail has not been determined.

The museum noted that Hernandez was not armed.

A DMA security guard found Hernandez on the museum’s concourse after a motion sensor went off and apprehended him before calling police. Police said Hernandez also called 911 on himself from inside the museum. Police responded at about 10:10 pm

Hernandez is being held in the Dallas County Jail, Dallas police said Thursday.

The guard told police that Hernandez said “he got mad at his girl so he broke in and started destroying property,” police said.

The museum is open to the public Thursday, including its “Cartier and Islamic Art”...
The museum is open to the public Thursday, including its “Cartier and Islamic Art” exhibition. Some permanent collection galleries are closed as police investigate.(Elias Valverde II / Staff Photographer)

Police said Bennett, the DMA security and operations director, showed them video of the suspect damaging and destroying museum property. In addition to the artwork, Hernandez is accused of causing tens of thousands of dollars in damages to other property including display cases, furniture, a computer and phones.

“While we are devastated by this incident, we are grateful that no one was harmed. The safety of our staff and visitors, along with the care and protection of the art in our stewardship, are our utmost priorities,” the museum said.

DMA board member Mary McDermott Cook, whose late parents donated or made available to the museum thousands of pieces of art, got a first-hand account of the vandalism on Thursday morning from museum director Agustín Arteaga. The call “made me sick to my stomach,” Cook said.

“I feel like everything has gone nuts, and this is one thing that went nuts,” she said. “But what I also said is, ‘Let’s face it. It’s just things. No person was hurt. And we have the technology and the expertise to put broken things back together.’ And thank God for that.”

For eight months in 2012, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci now considered the world’s most valuable — it sold at auction to the Saudi crown prince for a record $450.3 million in 2017 — reclined on an easel in a storeroom of the Dallas Museum of Art.

Michael Granberry and Maggie Prosser contributed to this report.

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