ixia: public art think tank

ixia has taken over the ownership and management of Public Art Online from Arts Council England. The design and content of the website are currently being reviewed.

Bookmark and Share

Stolen: Barbara Hepworth sculpture in Dulwich Park

Date uploaded: January 4, 2012

Two Forms (Divided Circle) by Barbara Hepworth, was stolen from its plinth in south London’s Dulwich Park on 19th December 2011. Thieves broke the padlock on Queen Mary Gate off the South Circular, leaving two stumps.

The sculpture, which had resided safely in the park since 1970, was a local landmark. Trevor Moore, chairman of Dulwich Park Friends, described it as a terrible blow: “It has always been there as long as I’ve been in Dulwich,” he said. “It’s just one of those things which is always there as you wander past and you feel like you’ve had a finger chopped off, in all honesty.”

The sculpture is believed to have been stolen by scrap-metal thieves, who will only manage to realise a tiny fraction of its insurance value (around £500,000). The incident has revealed how vulnerable public art works are to determined thieves.

There are thousands of works of art in public spaces - parks, gardens and town squares - all round the country. Many curators are reluctant to discuss the security measures they currently have in place. But Stephen Feeke, a curator at the New Art Centre, a gallery and sculpture park in Wiltshire, says flood-lighting is a good way to deter thieves and vandals. "You've also got to look at securely gating and fencing the perimeter of a park," he adds. "The important thing is to block access for vehicles: a bronze sculpture is far too heavy to carry off without a car."

With dozens of other art treasures in London parks in danger, metal dealers are likely to face strict requirements to check and record the identity of people touting scrap - and may be closed down if they fail. Payments in cash for scrap metal may be banned, under plans which have been given impetus by this recent theft. Soaring prices for scrap have triggered a boom in thefts, ranging from copper railway cables to brass memorial plaques listing the war dead. Rail cable thefts have caused huge disruption for commuters. Police believe metal theft is costing the country up to £1 billion a year, with up to 10,000 cases every week.

Southwark Council have offered a £1,000 reward for information leading to arrests. Anyone with information on the Dulwich Park theft should call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

Paul Ekblom, of the Design Against Crime Research Centre at London's Central Saint Martins, warns against the kneejerk imposition of fortifications. "We need to look at introducing security measures to new sculptures – for instance, using forensic coding that might allow the metal to be traced. It's also important to make it clear that these thefts are totally unacceptable: our artists and culture ministers need to stand up and say: 'Shame on you.'"

Click here to view Zoe William’s article for the Guardian, ‘Does the stolen Barbara Hepworth show that caring makes us weak?’

Photo: Southwark Council

Photo: Southwark Council