The Contemporary Art of Stealing Art

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

"The Scream" stolen in 1994 and 2004

"Mona Lisa" by da Vinci

"Mona Lisa" stolen in 1911 and several attempted vandals









Since the dawn of time, the art world has been plagued with thieves and vandals trying to gain a pretty penny from stealing, vandalizing, and replicating art.

Alright, so that was a little dramatic. But the art of stealing, in the art world, has been long a topic of reoccurring dicussion.

Recently, a Washington resident was arrested for theft and vandalism to five Ratner Museum of Art in Maryland sculptures worth about $90,000. This dude tried to scrap them at the recycling junk joint for money (he only got $150).

But, seriously? Check out the full story on ArtForum. Aside from the Ratner case, there’s more talk of art in the wrong hands in the news today.

  1. Last week, a small painting, “Blanchisseuses souffrant des dents,” by Degas emerged in an “auction 37 years after it was stolen from the Malraux Museum in Le Havre in Normandy.” The painting is estimated to be worth between $350,000 and $450,000, according to Art Daily.
  2. In December, sixteen paintings that had been stolen from private homes and churches were recovered and returned to their owners, mostly in Rome. Read more on this story, if you’re interested.

    "The Suicide of Cleopatra" by Durer, one of the returned paintings

However, after all the pushes and pulls between collectors, does the art of stealing an art piece make it worth more? I would argue,yes. Furthermore, does stealing items to create art make those items worth more? I think Mike Ballard would also say yes. Check out the down low on this artist…

Mike Ballard

Artist Mike Ballard in the installation for "Whose Coat Is That Jacket You're Wearing?"

His installation “Whose Coat Is That Jacket You’re Wearing?” fulfills a contemporary art world wet dream: A crowded display of illegally-gained goods (Armani, Diesel and other expensive brand name leather jackets, parkas, sport coats) and their contents (cash, drugs, cellphones, jewelry), all tagged, cataloged and reeking of human body odor just waiting to be returned to their rightful owners in a month-long act of contrition. –The Art Blog

Mike Ballard installation

Jackets and coats tagged in Ballard's installation

Ballard’s collection of stolen goods has been placed into an exhibit of sorts, with the hopes that the victims will come retrieve their belongings.

As interesting as this exhibit, artist, and story is, I can’t help but think this guy just wants more money and attention. He turned the art of stealing into art, which is quite novel, but does that make it ethical? I’m still tossing around this idea and haven’t decided which way to land.

Oh yea, and no one has claimed anything yet at Ballard’s exhibit.


2 responses to “The Contemporary Art of Stealing Art

  1. There’s stealing and then there’s stealing. Did you see that Jeff Koons in a twisted story about ownership is suing a manufacturer and retail outlet for stealing his balloon dog design? See:

    As an artist who employs collage and text, I often lift images and words from other contexts to make them my own. I think the real question is what is original, and what is its DNA?


    • I agree, there’s definitely a fine line with art. I think there are some ethical dilemma’s in the Ballard exhibit.

      I happen to love collage and text pieces, and a point was made in a comment of a previous post that there comes a point where the artist transforms something “stolen” into something of his/her own. I think that may hold true in your art form.

      As for the original vs. DNA…I couldn’t say. Perhaps someone else will jump in with their opinion on this.

      Thanks for your insight, Matthew.

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