Artist Adam Simon hoped to elicit a big response from Williamsburg gallery-hoppers with a painting reading “Steal this art” — but he didn’t want his message to be taken quite so literally.
The staff at Momenta Art is scrambling to find the crook who grabbed the five-by-seven-inch wood panel, valued at $300, which Simon donated as part of an annual fundraiser for the art space on Wednesday night.
Workers at the Bogart Street art space first noticed that the piece was missing from the wall after hosting a soiree on April 15 — and they thought Simon, who attended the event, took it himself.
“We thought he pulled a prank on us, we weren’t even worried about it — and it turned out not to be him,” said Momenta’s Andy Monk.
Simon was alarmed that his painting disappeared — and disappointed it won’t be part of a collection of more than 200 works included in a raffle.
“The idea that I would take it myself for a cheap publicity stunt is underestimating both me and the work,” said Simon, who has created 30 panels with the text painted over a stenciled image of a policeman in different colors. “I work hard on them. I feel bad that it was a benefit and a person has taken it.”
His artwork is a nod to counter-cultural icon Abbie Hoffman’s revolutionary bible “Steal This Book” — a title that some Hoffman fans adopted as a mantra, much to the writer’s delight.
Simon says he is well aware of his painting’s implication, but he wants his work to garner a more figurative response.
“It’s a challenge to myself, it sets something in motion in the viewer, the train of thought of actually taking something, and it’s more interactive,” he said. “The relationship between the art object and a viewer is what interests me.”
This isn’t even the first time someone stole Simon’s art.
A visitor pilfered a similar panel from a group show at Storefront, a Bushwick gallery, last year — but the gallery’s former director, Jason Andrew, managed to track down the thief and recover the work.
But so far, no one has returned the missing piece from the Momenta Art benefit.
In its place, gallery workers hung a poster with a photograph of Simon’s “Steal This Art” piece that reads: “Though the text incites impulse to do exactly this, the action is not condonable. The artist graciously donated this work to support Momenta Art’s operations, and now will not be able to contribute.”
So far, Momenta has no leads in the theft. Simon says he has a few suspects in mind, but won’t file a police report because he hopes the work will turn up before the benefit.
“I’m thinking of giving Momenta another one, but it would be better if the culprit just gave it back,” said Simon.