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Press Release

New York Woman Sentenced for Defacing Degas Sculpture Exhibit at the National Gallery of Art

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

            WASHINGTON – Joanna Smith, 54, of Brooklyn, New York, was sentenced today to 60 days in prison for the April 2023 defacement of an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art that displayed a wax sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen, created by Edgar Degas, announced U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves and FBI Special Agent in Charge David J. Scott, of the FBI’s Washington Field Office’s Criminal and Cyber Division. 

            Smith pleaded guilty on December 15, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to one count of causing injury to a National Gallery of Art exhibit. In addition to the prison term, Judge Berman Jackson ordered Smith to serve 24 months of supervised release, serve 150 hours of community service, of which 10 hours must involve cleaning graffiti, and pay restitution for the damage to the Degas exhibit. Smith is also barred from entering the District of Columbia and all museums and monuments for two years.

            According to the government’s evidence, Smith, along with other co-conspirators, traveled to Washington D.C., on April 27, 2023, to smear red and black paint on the National Gallery of Art permanent exhibition of the Little Dancer Aged Fourteen created by Degas from 1878 to1881. 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 the sculpture. 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 while it assessed the sculpture for damage and made repairs to the case. Gallery officials said it cost over $4,000 to repair the damage.

            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 April 26, 2024

Press Release Number: 24-364