In a recent episode of Law & Order, New York police detectives Lupo and Bernard (played by Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson) enter the Manhattan apartment of a murdered interior designer and find a $5 million art collection that includes canvases by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Glenn Ligon. To determine how an interior designer could afford such art, the detectives discover she was a drug dealer, and that, in turn, leads them to her killer.
René Balcer, an executive producer of the show and a collector of Asian art, says it is routine to feature art on the series. “If you’re a detective in New York, you’re going to have cases that involve art; you’re going to be in houses with incredible art,” he says.
Due to the taping schedule and budget, the Ligon and Basquiat paintings did not appear on the show. But Balcer has lent items from his personal collection to use as props. One was a piece of Inuit art by Judas Ullulaq, a carver of whalebone and stone. In a 2002 episode of the spin-off series Law & Order: Criminal Intent, a murderer gives the piece as a gift to the woman he is courting, played by Stephanie Seymour.
Balcer also finds ways to give artists exposure on the sly. He named a police officer on Law & Order Xu Bing, after the MacArthur Fellowship–winning Chinese artist.
One plotline allowed Balcer to write a dialogue for the detectives about the purpose of art. It was in a 2001 episode of Criminal Intent, in which detectives Goren and Eames (played by Vincent D’Onofrio and Kathryn Erbe) investigate the murders of an art authenticator and a museum curator who had discovered that the museum’s Monet is a forgery. As the detectives search for clues in the museum where the curator had worked, they come across a painting by Lucian Freud. “You can’t put that stuff in your home. You can’t live with it,” says Detective Eames. “Well, I’m not interested in living with it. I’m interested in… thinking about it,” Detective Goren replies.