Street Smart Chicago

Common Sense: Dear Art Thief

City Life, Essays & Commentary, Wicker Park Add comments

By Damien James

I spent more time than I’d like to admit wondering what you were thinking as you walked the halls of the smART Show in the Flat Iron building between 10:30pm and midnight a few weeks ago. I’m curious because in that time, you managed to swipe one of my drawings right off the wall and abscond with it.

My initial reaction, not surprisingly, was anger. Intense, red piping-hot anger. “What the fuck!?” were my words, to be exact, extra emphasis on the “f.” Who steals art at a small neighborhood show? From an “emerging” artist? (“Emerging” = “starving”) Even more, who steals a piece of art that’s already been sold? Now, I know it was small, and as you passed by maybe you thought it would fit perfectly in your bag or pocket or whatever, but did you not see the sticker above the drawing that said “sold”? Could you not have chosen a piece that hadn’t already been paid for? Because you see, some artists who do shows in the Flat Iron, especially in the halls of the Flat Iron, are struggling; they’re artists who are desperately trying to carve out some tiny, peaceful existence. We’re trying to do something good, to make and share something outside the ever-present web of invasive insanity-breeding consumerism. I get (but don’t condone, of course) stealing an iPhone, an X-Box, cash; but a drawing? Not only did you steal something I made, but you took money out of my pocket. And I’ve got other people to take care of beside myself. So: what the fuck!?

Really, what were you thinking? Was it, “this’ll look awesome on my bathroom wall”? Was it the thrill of stealing something? Are you some kind of Vincenzo Peruggia? What’s next, a Steven Soderbergh art-heist caper? Admittedly, I had to work hard to keep it from ruining my weekend. I decided the best way to fight it would be to turn the whole thing into a comedy, so as to diffuse my anger. Later, around three in the morning, I made a “wanted” poster, a framed print of the missing art offering a reward for any information that would aid in bringing the “international art thieves” to justice. In short, I had to turn you into a joke in order to not lose faith. And it worked. Your theft of my drawing and the subsequent art I made of that theft led to good conversations about where we are as a society and what we’re going to do about it; it led to some laughter and some congratulations, even. (Because after all, you must have really loved it, right, to break the law?)

And what are you thinking now, after some time has passed? If you still have the drawing you stole from me, is it on your wall? Do you look at it? Enjoy it? Is it a trophy of how you stuck it to some guy showing his work in a damn hallway? Well, kudos, pal.

Now I want to offer you an opportunity. I want to invite you to my next show, which is soon. I want you to come and talk to me. You don’t have to tell me that you’re the guilty one and you don’t have to bring my drawing back, assuming you still have it. You just have to come and talk to me. Have a conversation with me and look in my eyes, then decide if I’m someone you want to steal from. Decide if I’m the kind of person you want to blatantly disregard and disrespect. Shake my hand.

I’ll leave you with this: If you still do, in fact, have the drawing you stole from me, I want you to gently slide the back out of the frame. There’s probably a piece of cardboard that you’ll need to also pull out before you get to the back of the paper the drawing is on, but once you get to that piece of paper, take a look at it. I always write something on the backs of my drawings, little private random spontaneous messages from me to you, whoever the “you” happens to be. Read it to yourself and think about it. Then come and see me.

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