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Press Release

Activist Pleads Guilty to Defacing a Degas Exhibit at the National Gallery of Art

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia

            WASHINGTON – A New York woman pleaded guilty today to one count of causing injury to a National Gallery of Art exhibit in the May 26, 2023, defacement of Edgar Degas’ Little Dancer, Age Fourteen.

            Joanna Smith, 54, of Brooklyn, N.Y., pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington D.C., announced U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves and Acting Special Agent in Charge David Geist, of the FBI’s Washington Field Office’s Criminal and Cyber Division. 

            According to the government’s evidence, Smith, along with other co-conspirators, traveled to Washington D.C., to smear red and black paint on the National Gallery of Art permanent exhibition of Little Dancer, Age Fourteen, a sculpture created by Degas in 1881. Smith and a co-conspirator previously had conducted research on the piece and specifically targeted it. Before entering the National Gallery, the duo recorded video statements explaining their intent. Smith and the co-conspirator passed through security undetected with paint secreted inside water bottles.

            The duo approached the exhibit, removed the bottles from their bags, and began smearing paint on the case and base surrounding Little Dancer, Age Fourteen. Smith delivered statements telling onlookers why she was undertaking the action as paint dripped from the exhibit onto the surrounding floor.

            Following the action, the National Gallery was required to remove the sculpture from public display for 10 days. Gallery officials said it cost over $4,000 to repair the damage.

            Judge Berman Jackson scheduled sentencing for Apr. 3, 2024. The charge carries a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The maximum statutory sentence for federal offenses is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

            The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office, specifically the FBI’s Art Crime Team, with assistance from National Gallery of Art Police, and U.S. Park Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron A. Tepfer of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

Updated December 15, 2023

Press Release Number: 23-766