UPDATE: VIDEOS: Undercover Police Raid Local Art Gallery During Opening Reception of 3 Local Graffiti Artists

by Josh Usmani

UPDATE: View video interview on Sun 5/4/14 with Loren Naji here, to update the situation since the police action on Fri 5/2/14.

UPDATE: View video interviews on Fri 5/2/14 with Loren Naji here, and Bob Peck here.

Earlier in the evening on Fri 5/2/14, while most of Cleveland was being “Dazzled” in Playhouse Square, undercover local and state police raided local artist Loren Naji’s Studio Gallery in Ohio City during the opening reception of Undercurrent – featuring work by 3 of the region’s most talented graffiti artists. When I arrived at the gallery, police were in the process of cataloging and confiscating all the gallery’s alcohol. The gallery’s curtains were pulled closed, and the guests were waiting on the sidewalk. After speaking with many witnesses, here’s the story the best that I understand it:

At the beginning of the reception, police arrived at the gallery claiming to be responding to a complaint of a disturbance. The reception started at 6pm, and was scheduled to conclude sometime after midnight. Witnesses said the police’s first visit was around 5:30-6:30pm – probably setting a world record for response-time. Upon their initial visit, witnesses claim that the police left with everyone under the impression that it was a “false alarm” and the situation was under control. After all, the party wasn’t even getting started yet.

However, a short time later, about half a dozen plain-clothed, undercover police arrived claiming that it was “illegal for galleries to give away alcohol”. Naji (and just about every gallery in America) serves alcohol (as well as a large spread of food) at his openings. Every time I’ve been to an opening at his gallery, he’s always had a volunteer checking the younger visitors’ IDs (I distinctly remember Naji himself checking my ID on my first visit to his gallery). Galleries don’t sell alcohol – that’s illegal without a permit. However, almost every gallery serves some kind of alcoholic (and non-alcoholic) refreshments with donation jars. In tough economic times, these donations can sometimes be the difference between paying the rent and feeding yourself.

Participating artist Bob Peck asked the police if they’d be going around to all the galleries having receptions this evening (there were many). The officer then told Peck to “back off” because they knew who he was. When Peck asked the officer who they thought he was, they said his full name. “Investigating me for what?” asked Peck, and the officer just walked away.

Regular guests of the gallery claim that one of Naji’s neighbors has been calling the authorities to complain about the past three opening receptions. Naji regularly has large crowds (but nothing too out of the ordinary for Cleveland’s art community) and usually has a band playing in his back room. However, this isn’t a residential area, and there has never been any kind of incident at a reception in his gallery.

Police became agitated as witnesses began to take photos and videos of their actions. Authorities then kicked everyone out of the gallery as they cataloged every bottle of alcohol, emptied every drop of alcohol, and carried them away into an unmarked black van.

When they were finished, guests were allowed back in the gallery, and they left in 5 different, unmarked vehicles. It’s not clear exactly what the repercussions will be, but Naji said he was informed that he would have to go to court over the matter. If Naji is guilty, so is every curator and gallery professional to ever host a reception in Cleveland – myself included. Naji lost hundreds of dollars in confiscated alcohol and lost even more in potential donations. The art community is a very tight-knit, protective group, and Naji is one of our cultural leaders. I have no doubt that there will be a strong, appropriate response soon. Videos with Naji and Peck coming soon. Stay tuned as this story unfolds.

In the name of full disclosure, Naji hosted my Funny Money show back in December at 78th Street Studios. I consider him, Peck and fellow Undercurrent artist Steve Ehret to be friends.


Cleveland, OH 44113

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31 Responses to “UPDATE: VIDEOS: Undercover Police Raid Local Art Gallery During Opening Reception of 3 Local Graffiti Artists”

  1. John

    I think the appropriate response is to graffiti the police station

  2. Dbra

    Don’t let idiots intimidate you, Loren. I live two streets over and we never ever hear noise from your place. But a few folks in this hood are a tad off. BTW, my two year old daughter lOVes your big wood ball sculptures – “look mommy look!” Every time we pass it! You are a bright light in our neighborhood, shine on!

  3. Garry Kanter

    The Cleveland Heights police did something very similar to a t-shirt & shoe store on Coventry that was having an artist reception. Late 2013, early 2014.

    I think they had the LCB with them.

  4. Nancy Dinger

    This makes me absolutely sick. Loren is one of the nicest, most cordial people I know. These are such good, legitimate artists he was showing– it was not some excuse for a party as the media might make it out to be. I hope he gets back tenfold what he lost.

  5. Thor Lyons Salem

    I left the place and 20 minutes later this went down. WTH?!

  6. Lynda Tuttle

    Police have come two different times to my gallery in Canton Ohio checking for alcohol. We were even called our once for serving coffee during a downtown public event. They said we had no liscence permitting us to serve food, drinks or alcohol. Crazy!!

  7. e harlor

    Shame on these under cover police this is harassment, everyone needs to know if there is a court date so we can show support!

  8. Mary Pritchard

    How about the possibility of calling openings “private parties”, and then you can serve alcohol. Don’t know the legalities, but for the past four years Denver has been having the Cannibis Cup, a private party that hundreds of people buy tickets to and smoke pot. It has only been legalized since the January.

  9. Mark common

    I arrived just after the police began clearing people out. I was in the back room and one officer walked in there complaining about how it could’ve gone much easier if people were not causing problems. I asked him if people were arguing with or confronting them? He said yes and that people were taking pictures yelling and that some people gave him the finger. I said all of those things are legal. The officer said yes up to a point. I told the officer- no, not to a point when things are legal they are just legal. He Said that’s true but that they can only take so much! I wish I gotten his badge number. I guess the police just can have citizens doing legal things that annoy them…

  10. Valisk

    The CPD needs SOMETHING to do with its time since it’s primary job of ticketing speeders is being taken over by inanimate objects.

    This nonsense about giving away booze, is it a state law or cleveland local law?

  11. Did they identify themselves properly ?
    Pretty bad behavior and you can be sure that they are acting illegally though they will probably dress it up in some acceptable form.

    Good luck with dealing with them.

  12. Lauren

    With all personal feelings set aside about this situation, I will say this: I don’t go to cleveland galleries for a reason. Because it seems like most galleries around here are more concerned about the music and getting shitfaced off cheap beer rather than, oh I dunno… art? Seems like there’s a gallery on every corner in Cleveland these days. And I don’t see anyone walking out with purchased art…. if the way galleries make money is by selling PBR thru donations at openings, maybe they should reconsider their strategy? Maybe SELL the art? I mean, its a gallery after all. Not a frat house. Sorry, but its unprofessional. People seem to have this huge margin of exception for what the “ART COMMUNITY” is, does and is allowed to do. What does the art community do to help our city, exactly? I’m not sure. They all hang out with each other and drink beer at each others galleries and give each other thumbs up and trade grant money. Lol. Sorry, but you’re a business. With no permits. If I had a huge house party and I had a stand and I was selling beer in front of my house for “donations” don’t u think I’d get arrested? Yup. I would. No one is entitled to break the law. “Artist” or not. Nothing against this particular gallery, or anyones gallery, but its the truth. Plain and simple.

  13. Jeanne Gordon

    Will you people with your high and mighty artsy attitude just listen to me. you people need to follow the law and get a permit. if not I hope you all get the maxiimum sentance and fine and spend time thinking how you can be a productive member of society. Maybe you will loose your business permits and go back to sniffing glue or whatever it is you did before you started selling your spray paint ”art”

  14. Karen

    List the event as BYOB and have a donation can for cups. I think you are covered then. So it costs a bottle of wine or a can of beer to get in. If you want to contribute to the art community & the gallery, buy a cup. You can “share” your bottle, too, I think…

  15. Lauren is right on….as a gallery owner, the openings and events in this town have turned me off as very poor business with little or no return. Free (or cheap) alcohol seems to be the drawing card on a Friday or Saturday night on these “walks”. The openings do have some merit and are often for a worthy cause or charity….but the art serves as scenery….we are in business to sell art to people that appreciate buying, owning and displaying art. The pricing of work is very reasonable here in Cleveland…go to a gallery in NYC and prepare for sticker shock…we have some wonderfully talented artists here in town, many who have not exhibited their work and craft…I doubt they were thinking about an “event” when they created the work…

  16. Joe Pierce

    It is a little disturbing that the CPD would do this. I have gone to my share of opening with my wife. When we have purchased artwork it usually stays on display with a red dot or something. That is why some may not see patrons rolling out a cart of art like at Walmart. The refreshments served are a courtesy and overhead, but we always feel better when a donation is allowed as we can get our own drinks and are not trying to make a meal out of hors d’oeuvres. We go to see other like minded lovers of art as well as see what’s new. It is a shame our police were involved in such a brutish act.

  17. Steven Izen

    The implied accusation (by Lauren and Waterloo Studios) that Loren Naji is not running a gallery as a business to sell art, but is using art as an excuse for rowdy parties is patently false. My wife and I have attended some of his events (and even brought our kids). We have purchased, appreciate and display two (not cheap) pieces we found while attending openings at Loren’s gallery. One large piece is proudly hanging at the entrance of my wife’s law firm, the other is at home We can’t be the only people that “appreciate buying, owning and displaying art” (Waterloo Studios’ words) attending Loren’s events. Not all businesses have to follow the same script. Just because Loren’s business model doesn’t match that of Waterloo Studios doesn’t make it any less valid, just different (and in my personal view, better).

  18. Wow…WATERLOO STUDIOS waded in on this!!! AGREE with THEM and LAUREN..spot on… just a WHOLE bunch of *$*@&* no matter how cut it whether regular bars trying to stick it to art crew or OTHER art bars trying to ORrrr…. sure easy target for CPD…and quite frankly Im sure some clown got all *$*@ even on LOWEST booze content stuff and did *$*@ to WRONG person one tooo many times whether on sidewalk,fence or singing at 4AM… NO idea on this Mr.Naji… NEVER met said… HAVE heard,read THAT same theme bout art is almost this pseudo afterthought whutever sorta used as prop on walls,entrance way with actual ‘hot action’ being booze and food for Yuppies,GBLT,Millenials,etc.on expense account or daterape night on the town or by expense account biz crew…

    Mz.Izen above and His comment ….appreciate what He and Mrs.said… GLAD SOMEONE is…are good artists out there TRYING to do right thing and same with buyers..ENOUGH to support WHAT left of galleries? You tell me… sorta funky n funny seeing TREMONT almost OUT of art galleries… ALWAYS a TOUGH biz to be in …PICADILLY’s is gone off Professor…HAD EXCELLENT art… HOW ever got art from a RUSSIAN artist from THERE is a story itself…maybe being tooo parochial here…

    NOT sure if as true NOW BUT fair number of old timers,hillbillies,Goth types,etc.dominated lot of old hoods and ANYTHING goes basically and likes of HANDFUL of the Asterisk Galleries COULD do their thing cuz viewed as harmless WHUTEVER gigs where artists bang whutever together,swig a few beers and everyone else just kinda hangs out….

    IS a REAL battle going on and throw in cranky old blanks with time,ax to grind and other such…as they say…SMELL,FOLLOW the money… GOT A BIZARRE quandary of the Golden Goose NOW threatening itself…IT ALL ‘surfaces’….BATTLE over parking spots to other such…and not tooo far behind is Homies,hoodies,etc.thou fair number of them ARE decent souls BUT… and NOT far behind all THAT is protective politicos issuing statements,policies… AND SAD as H reached this mindset….

    PATRONS? LUCKY not ticketed,etc. WOW… THAT could get ugly tooo… the WHOLE thing looks,smells like blank and ol time hatchet job BS,etc. “THEY” are worried bout their pensions to other plus ‘authority thing’ and ALL THAT…THEY assume ALL guilty til proved otherwise…NOT all like that and got a few who are like whutever esp.older crew who SEEN it all and its like HEY…IS a semi militarization of the ‘force’,etc. WILL SAY this….REALLY sorta have to do something to raise ire of to get THIS response…

    OHIO? that legal entity …DEPT of… WHO again…RARE to hear from THAT crew…

    MY statements…THAT outta get me on someones radar….

  19. RESPONSE to cops…TRUE Cleveland CITIZEN reply as they say… if ME? THANKFUL got out without issue…Go to see some art or whutever or pseudo easy cheap time on the town and get THIS…AM I GONNA fall on MY ‘sword’ to defend some newbie hole in the wall artist,art dealer who I dont know and gosh ONLY knows what HE or anyone else into? KINDA the essence of it…but what do I know..

    CPD’s OWN thoughts on all this…..figure let burb downtown city workers and rest pay THEIR ‘freight’ along with union pensions,etc. ALL good til get Detroit style horror….

    KEEP ALL THIS in mind when patronize stuff…. COP to MR.SECURITY CONCERNED with no issues and no social media uproar and wont hesitate to be a blank about it…HOW badly want to get rolled up into the “System”? ….”SOMETHING” happens and EVERYONE gets a FREE ride to Police Museum… sure good ol bondspeople to other luv the biz ….

  20. KAREN has best reply thou sorta agree with mr.Byrne… JUST a sad thing all the way around… AMAZING number of off duty cops who own bars,guard bars,etc. THAT outta get me a search warrant… Jeanne G? I can ‘feel’ the NON Luv she has for graffiti gurus…. I ALWAYS thought need to reach some kind of accord with that crew, co opt most of em, have pseudo designated areas and ‘judge’ whoever has best artwork… check underneath ORANGE/WOODLAND/Innerbelt/Lorain i-71 bridge… authorities saying as much…THEN again blew mega money rehabbing Downtown… got Medmart to MAYBE OTHER stuff ‘coming’…. think 2016..(GOT serious doubts on THAT but HEY….)… if IF somehow politicos come HERE HERE Us HERE in THAT ‘bestowed gift’ AINT gonna see a cop or sheriff deputy or whutever for a week…maybe everyone hoping whutever arson to other that needs to be done gets done….Figure me lord,etc.for SAYING THAT but SURE CERTAIN politicos to other wish for THAT… THEY are summing up the numbers…so is System as THEY transiiton to whutever….. if ANY golden opportuniites…ARTS bars get some new parking out of it….

  21. THIS is CLEVELAND where *$@* goes on…. IDEA of folks getting blank on 3% TINY dixie cup qty of booze is surreal….get a few freedloaders…STILL…HALF shocked dont have folks come in AND THEN lock the doors…members only…usuaully how done… IS a UGLY battle right now tween old timers in the old stuff and bars and NEW crew who TRY n game system TO chase out,harrass old crew,etc.and meantime certain well powers that be doing calculations and figure old crew going to nursing homes,back home to Hills of whutever,jail,broke,insane,shot,tooo old to deal with old place and LOT of other issues and figure can JUST sweep in and take over place for song… IS a delusion of sorts…WHAT hot today is gone tomorrow… to be HONEST lot of the wannabe hipchic SOMETIMES borders on a bizarre Alig type moment in time… TRY dealing with THAT….yikes… after get done TRYING to figure out WHAT or WHO dealing with let us all know….

  22. AND everyone runs off to get legal advice…..lets see HOW creative folks get in response to all this…I may sound like a homocidial psychopathic sociopath in this rambling statements of mine BUT HEY HOW I view it or more importantly HOW it is…. I FEEL for this town in a way… BE THANKFUL shrinking…

  23. WANT honest truth…TIME to create trustfund for polticos,get THEM out of the way as they retire or spit out pseudo worthless studies,etc.etc. and THEN LEVEL one FOURTH of city or whutever and CREATE breathing space and sanity… quite frankly THEY are gonna say Well we reformed the schools,got MedMart,etc. WHAT more do You want or expect?…. I FEEL for halfway decent honest biz and people who feel sidelined,pissed on,etc.in all THIS…. STILL have a city semi full of whutever with no idea who are semi cross eyed droolies looking to score $5 weed as they giggle down the street of whutever …

  24. BANKSY babe wheea art thou…. Come to OUR ‘rescue’, speak for the Cause! Yooo!!!

  25. IF want HONEST truth….sure ‘thought’ of CERTAIN ‘substances’ being “present” at premises is in back of minds OF…. PICK YOUR CHOICE as to the 5 Ws on this topic matter….

    OTHER then the bearing maker (WHOSE OWN future is maybe well ANYWAYS… ARE such things as buyouts,mergers,bankruptcy,etc.)REST of THAT complex has HAD A REAL checkered history….including the bar at the end THAT I THINK IS closed…Inferno or Delusions or Illusions or whutever THAT is…had a SHOOTING right in parking lot…THEY couldnt make go of it…heck..THEY WERE behind in THEIR WC payments among other things…ALL THAT was before wundrous uber wurldkind of a certain real estate ‘firm’ that owns or had owned that area before Ohio City kinda went on this SECOND “renaissance”….. THEY are TRYING…seem to be on a upward trend and time will tell IF IF that new wannabe housing going in that area is ALL “THAT” or not…. ALWAYS seems this ‘promise’ of sorts and well HEY….

  26. Mz.Tuttle…Ohhh yeah I CAN believe it…if THAT was OUT in open on Public Sq then Oh yeahhh…usually a cop sometime circling all THAT…and ONLY gonna get MORE INTENSE as time goes on…gonna have security webcams to rest of it and gonna feel like LONDON or other such huge cities….

  27. Dbra ….i know what You mean BUT got fair number of hoodies,homies,droolies,druggies or combo of all the above and in context of THAT hood and sure qualms,fears on hood associatons part and when mix in relative handful of very protective homeowners,etc.it doesnt much or very long for folks to get blank about it all or anything…aka ‘bunerkmentality’. PUT this ANOTHER way…ONE house NEXT to furniture store ON w.25th at Chatham…HAD ALL kinds of problems with THAT corner bar across the way…people getting drunk,LAYING/SLEEPING on car OUT front of house among other things…THAT is usually the kind of stuff that sets folks ‘off’ as they say…..

    USUALLY when THANKFUL have demolitions,etc.cuz THEN can get extra nearly free land to build garage,etc.and DONT have THOSE ‘issues’ anymore…fling up HIGH fence thou lot of em HIGH enough…or plant lot of thorny shrubs,etc. OR motion lights…or..Orrr…

  28. IDEA of a TREMONT man getting all whutever bout some OHIO city art gallery…IF shop I know of its TINY ….IS available parking across street or shared one tween bar and furniture store…. AINT gonna get rid of bearing maker…MEGA money there… and mega jobs…if choice of some funky hole in wall art gallery gig or THAT… I THINK bearing maker not blank bout it and IS a security cam…Im ASSUMING an awful LOT here thou… LOT of it is CPD doesnt want to hear blank but how didnt protect a rising asset and ALL THAT…. WHO is gonna get ALL THAT bout some wrecked warehouse on east or west whutever numbered street…

  29. WAYyyy tooo much time,effort expended on THIS ‘stuff’ on MY part thou NEAR same pattern,biz model across the city…

  30. I DONT know HOW real all this hipsterstuff is but……

    NO idea if THIS is SOME kind of funky side diversion,deflection so CERTAIN big time,Big $ money topics,PROJECTS dont get AS ‘blasted’ PR wise or other…or beef up the ‘numbers’…PERSONALLY THINK OUTER hoods GONNA try and make stand while WHUTEVER goes on over in likes of Colgate,etc.

  31. I DONT know HOW real all this hipsterstuff is but……

    NO idea if THIS is SOME kind of funky side diversion,deflection so CERTAIN big time,Big $ money topics,PROJECTS dont get AS ‘blasted’ PR wise or other…or beef up the ‘numbers’…I KNOW sounds like most cynical thing to say BUT….

    PERSONALLY THINK OUTER hoods GONNA try and make stand while WHUTEVER goes on over in likes of Colgate,etc. and let cops,drugs,arson,parkinglots,urban gardens clean it out for all…LIMITS to art thing AND I AM a artist…. WEll LIMITS to LOT of this… CITY and REST grabbing at straws to KINDA create SOME kind of new ‘dynamics’. BUT try telling some poo slob whose work,biz is fixing radiators,making bread racks,brazing rod,etc.

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