How Not to Steal Stolen Art

April 9, 2013 | ANIMAL

I tried to steal art this weekend. All of my friends assured me jail time was an option. “Har har, you’re gonna get arrested!” Look. I just wanted to prove a point by stealing some art.

Artists can get away with all sorts of criminal actions just by calling it Art with a capital “A.” That’s a privilege most people — journalists included — don’t have. It’s not fair, especially not when you can get away with the illegal alternative to buying because you’re nabbing from your friends. Said unfairness is happening right now at the Lower East Side gallery Lu Magnus. Adam Parker Smith is a pretty good artist out of Brooklyn and his show is made up entirely from stolen artworks.

Over the span of a few months, Smith would grab artworks from his friends’ studios while they weren’t looking, while they were peeing in a bathroom or whatever else you do that’s not protecting artworks — 82 of them. Smith’s a pretty good thief too. The show’s called “Thanks” as in “Thanks, friends, for not throwing me in jail.”

This weekend, I set out to steal his stolen artwork. The moral of the story: shoplifting is hard.

It was fairly quiet when I walked into the gallery on Saturday afternoon. Down a staircase, the work was lumped across six tables.

The offices are off to the side, the door open just a crack. I’ve worked in galleries before, and nobody’s ever watching the art. Stealing looked too easy.

Maybe I was nervous, but I decided to grab the first artwork in the show — a zine-sized ink-on-paper work that read “Where is the Madness That You Promissd Me.” Commentary omitted.

There was also a really cool-looking zombie hand with long fingernails, but that looked heavier and would probably make a “thump” as I stashed it in my tote bag. The misspelled promise was closest to the exit. It would have to do. Damn. Here comes the dealer Amelia Abdullahsani, running and yelling at me. Well, I wasn’t prepared to put up a fight. Or run. Fuuuuck. She was fast. Do you see that photo on the fourth table? She knocked it over because she was a speed demon.


“Oh, hi. I’m just a journalist trying to steal stolen art. Isn’t that funny? Really funny!” The dealer gave me a death grip of a handshake and wouldn’t let go. Crushed palm. Awkward smile. Eyes smizing nervously. The dealer said I was the first person to try to steal any of the stolen art. Well, A+ for effort?

I now realized that trying again would possibly end in the aforementioned jail time as I was not a cool kid artist, so re-stealing wouldn’t be cool. It’s proven that stealing art makes that art more valuable, like that San Francisco gallery’s Picasso. So, whatever. Guess that’s how the in-crowd wins.

(Photo: Kyle Petreycik/ANIMALNewYork)