Thursday, 14 October 2010

Stealing Art

I am surprised at the admission by Guardian journalist Charlotte Higgins that she stole a porcelain sunflower seed from the new installation at Tate Modern. Her piece appeared in the paper yesterday under the heading. Is it OK to steal a Turbine Hall seed?

The seeds, about the size of a Smartie or M&M, are the work of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, perhaps best know in the UK for his contribution to the design of the beautiful ‘bird’s nest’ Olympic stadium in Beijing. He has been commissioned to create the new installation in the giant space of the old Turbine Hall, which will be in place for six months.

Ms Higgins seems to justify herself by saying that because there 100 million of these hand-finished objects on the floor of the Turbine Hall, the Tate can afford to lose one to every one of the 2 million expected visitors. But where would she draw the line? What if those visitors want to take a couple of dozen each?

Antony Gormley’s piece Field for the British Isles is composed of 40,000 tiny terracotta figures; would she steal one of those? Or perhaps take one of Carl Andre’s 120 bricks?

I went down to the Tate today to see the exhibition – but only from a distance. It was ‘closed for maintenance’. Two hours later, and it was still closed. A helpful member of staff confirmed, off the record, that they were trying to decide how to deal with the potential theft - handfuls had been taken at the press launch on Monday - as well as the dust rising as people tramped through the seeds.

Meanwhile, I’m surprised that the Guardian’s Chief Arts Writer should not only confirm her own theft, but seem to encourage her readers to do the same.

A lone worker rakes the seeds

I shall make another attempt to see it when the ‘maintenance’ problems have been resolved.

The critics seem to like it.

Telegraph: he’s come up with a masterpiece.

Guardian: I love this work. It is a world in a hundred million objects….Sunflower Seeds is contingent, oddly moving and beautiful.

The Independent. This, in the end, is rather a melancholy piece....But it’s also about our responsibilities to one another, and the energy we share, and so it contains a seed of hope. Make that 100 million seeds of hope.

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