'Steal This Art? Painting Stolen From Brooklyn Gallery: Is It Really A Crime?

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Have you seen this painting? (Adam Simon)

A practical-joking art fan (we think) has called artist Adam Simon on his bluff -- swiping his painting that read Steal This Art from the walls of Momenta Art in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. 

The Brooklyn Paper first reported on the missing painting Monday, just over a week after its disappearance. Simon had donated the Abbie Hoffman-inspired artwork -- valued at $300 -- for the gallery's annual fundraising benefit that will take place Wednesday.

Staff at Momenta Art noticed the painting was missing after an April 15 party at the space. Momenta's Andy Monk told the Brooklyn Paper that gallery staff initially thought Simon himself had removed the painting as a prank, and weren't initially concerned about an actual theft.

But Simon had nothing to do with it, though this isn't the first time a similar painting of his has been taken. [The] element of risk puts the painting in a different relation to the public, one where I'm inviting someone to act in a way that will have consequences for me, Simon said in an interview.

The lesson learned is to not hang this art too close to the door, he joked.

Simon is taking the apparent theft in stride, and believes he might know who the culprit is.

I have a lot of friends who are practical jokers, Simon said, adding that he didn't want to make any unfounded accusations, since he has no concrete evidence. While he said he hasn't spoken directly to anyone he thinks might have taken the painting, he did email someone a link to the report about the missing art, hoping that might be enough for the suspect to come clean.

It wasn't. And while Simon understands the potential ramifications of creating art that directs observers to steal it, he isn't always certain how to reconcile the risk with the work he puts in to each piece.

It's a conflict for me because I know that the possibility of someone stealing one of these paintings is an essential component of the work. It would be silly for me to act surprised or outraged, he said. I'm saying to the viewer, 'Hey, you can choose to just look but you can also choose to act.'

Simon is a founding member of the Fine Art Adoption Network, a community of artists that offers their work free of charge to a chosen collector.

The idea of people getting art without paying money is part of what I do anyway, he said. But Simon hopes that people will stifle the urge to follow his direction too literally in cases where he doesn't intend to give his art away free and clear. I work hard on these paintings, he added. I try to make each one unique and although they all use the same elements, each one is completely different and when I make one it's like starting from scratch.

I work on them until I have something I think is beautiful and surprising, he continued. So I really don't want them all to be stolen.

Simon hopes the painting will be returned before Wednesday's benefit, and was cautiously optimistic it would reappear on time for the event. If not, he will donate a similar painting with the same message.

I think artists make things without necessarily understanding all of the ramifications of what they make, he said. That's probably not a bad thing.

The Momenta Art Spring Benefit will open at noon Wednesday, with a cocktail hour and raffle drawing for ticketholders beginning at 6 p.m.

Adam Simon's solo show Pictures and Gestures opens on Friday, April 27, at Studio 10 on 56 Bogart Street in Brooklyn.

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