One of the highlights of the very wonderful 2017 edition of Skulptur Projekte Münster is installed in a remote field near Lake Aa in the German city. Titled Harsh Citation, Harsh Pastoral, Harsh Münster (2017), it’s a series of seven LED panels by Ei Arakawa that display animated versions of paintings by the likes of Joan Mitchell and Amy Sillman, and take turns singing winsome songs about themselves, composed by Christian Naujoks with lyrics co-written by Arakawa and Dan Poston. Sadly, though, this past weekend, one of the pieces, based on a work by Jutta Koether, went missing.
“On Saturday night, June 17th, someone—at least two people—came with an electric screwdriver in order to remove a plexiglass cover and steal an LED painting,” Arakawa said in an email. “The work is 2 m x 2.5 m, so it is not something you can take away easily. We don’t know why they did it. The police in Münster are searching for witnesses right now.”
Arakawa is working on a replacement that he hopes will be ready by July 1. The other six paintings, thankfully, are still working. “This is a really interesting ‘performance’ in a way, revealing how vulnerable art in public space can be, and how public space can be violent,” the artist said, displaying an impressive amount of equanimity for a guy who just had his art stolen. “This often happens in the history of Skulptur Projekte.”
In 2007, for instance, Michael Asher’s Installation Münster (Caravan), a caravan parked in various places around the city, was stolen, only to be discovered in a small town about 20 minutes by car from Münster. In 1987, the hands of a plaster version of the Lourdes Madonna by Katharina Fritsch were damaged in an act of vandalism, and in 1977 local students unhappy with three giant pool balls installed by Claes Oldenburg attempted, unsuccessfully, to push the works into the lake. The motive for the theft of Arakawa’s work is not yet known.
The replacement work, Arakawa said, will be “on a black PVC sheet instead of on hand-dyed fabric as the originals were all made. This is in part because it will take less time to replace, but also because I want this incident of the public artwork being stolen to be visible to future visitors.” He added that, while he keeps working on that, “you can enjoy the other 6 LED paintings, one empty metal frame, and songs.”