Come and get it: Exhibit invites thieves

AFP
The Tokyo art exhibit opened to enthusiastic visitors, but many of those circulating weren't just there to soak in some culture – they were casing the joint for a midnight raid.
AFP

The Tokyo art exhibit opened to enthusiastic visitors, but many of those circulating weren’t just there to soak in some culture — they were casing the joint for a midnight raid.

Hours after the gallery closed for the night, a crowd had gathered ready to pounce on the artworks. The police station was nearby, but officers only intervened for crowd control, because all the pieces at the Stealable Art Exhibition were up for grabs.

The event was intended as “an experiment,” to alter the relationship between artists and visitors, organizer Tota Hasegawa said.

It was originally conceived as a low-key event that might attract some covert thievery, but word spread so fast on social media that a crowd of nearly 200 people packed the streets near the gallery hoping for a chance to grab a prize.

Would-be robbers were told they could raid the gallery from midnight, but the crowd was so big that the theft started half an hour earlier, and the exhibition that had been billed as running for up to 10 days was emptied of art in less than 10 minutes.

Yusuke Hasada, 26, was a rare winner, gripping a crumpled 10,000 yen (US$93) banknote in a frame.

He arrived an hour before midnight only to see a crowd had already formed. Since there was no apparent queue, he maneuvered himself into a spot right in front of the gallery.

“The moment the staff said they should open early due to the big crowd, people rushed in from behind me. I was in the front, and I almost fell over,” he said. “It was scary.”

Hasada said he plans to hang the work, among those on display supplied by 10 contemporary artists, in his home.

But not everyone stealing the items appeared to have the same idea, with several artworks appearing on online auction sites within hours with price tags as high as 100,000 yen.

Even after the exhibit was emptied out, would-be thieves continued arriving, forcing a nearby police station to dispatch officers for crowd control. “You are blocking traffic!” officers shouted.

Yuka Yamauchi, a 35-year-old systems engineer, showed up 15 minutes before midnight but was too late.

“I entered with my husband and it was just packed with so many people ... We saw larger artworks taken out by those who came earlier,” she said.

But Yamauchi didn’t leave completely empty-handed. “I’ve got a clip ... I found it dropped, so I picked it up as a souvenir,” she said with a laugh.

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