Mark Dion sculptures stolen

Theft not covered by insurance policy

LONDON. Inadequate insurance taken out by Lancaster city council has left a public art project by US artist Mark Dion in ruin after thieves stole 21 bronze sculptures in February 2008. The works, made by local sculptor Robert Williams, were part of The Tasting Garden, a public garden created in 1998 by Dion for the inaugural Artranspennine exhibition organised by Tate Liverpool and the Henry Moore Institute. The garden consists of a series of pathways, each terminating with a heritage-variety fruit tree and a plinth with a 2ft sculpture of the corresponding tree’s fruit. Dion said: “The idea was that when the garden matured, visitors could taste their way through it.”

The project was initiated by the local Storey Gallery for the exhibition, which featured 40 public art installations at 30 sites from Liverpool to Hull. The walled-garden is located on city-owned land adjacent to the gallery. While the gallery was closed for renovation, thieves took advantage of the garden’s lack of supervision and stole all but one of the sculptures. When Dion and the gallery approached the city about the insurance policy, they learned that it did not cover larceny (theft without force).

Dion said: “My understanding is that the city took out the wrong insurance. The policy only covers against forced entry and as these are outdoor sculptures, it doesn’t seem to apply.” Storey Gallery director John Angus said that although the gallery initiated the project, it was on property given to the city in May 1998. “The city had a contract to maintain the garden for ten years and the theft occurred within that period.”

“If we can’t replace the fruit, the work is over,” said Dion. “I’m not sure what the future plans are for the garden but without the sculptures it wouldn’t have anything to do with me. The local council has no appreciation for this work…they don’t understand that it is a fabric of the city.”

Dion also regards this robbery as symptomatic of the issue of bronze sculpture theft in the UK. He said: “This is just a small part of a larger epidemic in Britain.”

Dion and the gallery are looking at the possibility of re-casting the sculptures in resin. “We would like to recreate the piece in another material that would not be a future target for thieves,” said Mr Angus. Dion added: “Changing the material would not be a detriment to the work—I’m willing to negotiate and do whatever is necessary to make this happen.”

Although the city still advertises the garden on its website as one of its public art projects, when asked by The Art Newspaper if they plan to replace the sculptures a spokesperson said “not at this time”.

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