A historic London hotel, known for its distressed walls and overdue restoration, was the scene of artwork theft last week.
On October 12, a burglar stole the oil painting Präparat by German artist Sarah Księska from West London’s Averard Hotel. The work was on display as part of a group exhibition the previous night by Lower East Side, New York gallery Ramiken Crucible, coinciding with London’s Frieze art fair.
“It was a burglary,” Mike Egan, the gallery’s founder and co-director, told ARTnews. “It wasn’t as if they stole it from the opening.”
Egan has strong suspicions about who stole the painting: two German-speaking men who attended the opening and also spoke to his friends. “I think they sensed it was really valuable.”
After Egan contacted the police, a review of the security camera footage showed how the theft occurred, he said: Around 9 a.m., a man entered the hotel, walked immediately to the second floor, through several rooms, pulled the painting off the wall, and walked out.
“He left our computers, he didn’t touch any power tools or electronics, which is what people usually steal,” Egan said. “He went straight for this one painting though, and it happened to be a painting that I owned.”
Egan, who represents Księska through Ramiken and exhibited her work there earlier this year, bought Präparat from a dealer in Dusseldorf last year. The London exhibition, however, was the first time he had seen the oil-on-aluminum work in person due to shipping issues. A crate holding new works from Księska was delayed at London’s Heathrow airport, prompting Egan to put up Präparat so that she would still have a presence at the group show.
“I installed it around 4:30 pm on the 11th for the opening and then they stole it at 9 am. I only got to see it for a little bit,” he said with a laugh.
Egan has posted a notice on Instagram offering a £10,000 reward for the painting, as well as street signs with pictures of the stolen painting and the suspects. The hope is the burglar will realize they can’t sell the painting, and return it to Egan via a friend or other proxy for the funds, instead of destroying the work or leaving it somewhere.
“I’d rather just get it back because I really love it and it’s worth something to me,” he said. “We have to have that painting.”
Despite this being the first theft in Ramiken’s thirteen years of exhibitions, Egan said the show went “amazingly well” and he doesn’t regret the choice of venue. “It’s nice to do a show not in a white cube.”
Even though the Averard Hotel needs extensive restoration work and appears in visibly poor condition, Egan said it was one of the most secure locations he had shown in due to its full security.
“We have pictures of the burglar’s face from several angles. I doubt they’re going to get away with this,” he said.