Are you an exhibiting artist? Has a piece of your artwork ever disappeared from a show? A framed piece of my art, “Stained Glass Branches,” disappeared this week off the wall of a gallery in Harvard Square. It was part of a group show that includes abstract works by 39 different artists. We are all either current or past students of Sheila Rice—a remarkable and experimental 80-something hardy New England powerhouse who produces abstract art regularly amidst a busy schedule of teaching, taking care of her grandkids, and being a spirited friend and inspiration to local artists. I thought it was an engaging and very interesting body of works, and I enjoyed meeting the other artists at the reception in early October.
When the new gallery coordinator called to tell me my piece had gone missing, she clearly felt awful about making the call, and at the time I may have felt worse for her than for me. I was a little fascinated by the irony of the situation. Up until this past spring, I was the coordinator of that same gallery. I had that role for several years and I knew that I would have hated to make that call, too. I’d have put it off for at least 24 hours, combing the building first. I had never seen a piece of art stolen during that time, although I think it had happened in its history. It’s a public building and over the years some things have mysteriously disappeared from it—a laptop, some desk computers, wallets, gloves. Even my favorite black cloche hat once vanished inexplicably from the building. But such occurrences were rare overall.
A fellow artist encouraged me to post an image of the piece on Facebook and ask others to re-post it. He sounded sure this would cause the piece to show up again. Completely unconvinced, I did it anyway. Some suggested it was a kind of honor to have a piece of one’s art stolen. Maybe they were being playful or kind, but I had to admit I had quietly entertained that notion myself. One friend wrote, “They say that increases the value of your other pieces,” and another wrote, “Cheer yourself thinking that someone loved your style so much he/she could not resist, and will now and from the rest of his/her life stare at your piece with a smile of content on his/her face and think ‘can’t believe it’s mine’.” Yet another wrote, “OMG-that’s terrible! But also a commentary on its future value…Already worth stealing!” I appreciated this positive spin, despite knowing I may never get it back.
I am a digital painter, and this piece was a giclée print on rag paper of an image that was painted entirely digitally. I still have the digital image, so if I wanted to, I could have it printed again. It would still be a first generation print. I like my art to be affordable and I don’t do limited edition prints—that’s why a medium-size print like this, framed and matted, can still have a sale price of $150. If you ignore the cost and effort invested in having this piece printed and framed, having it stolen certainly isn’t the worst thing that could happen to an artist. Would I like to have it back? Of course. But I do hope that whoever is in possession of it loves looking at it. That was the whole point in the first place. Maybe they really needed it. I’m willing to believe that.