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Thieves posing as Paris city employees caught on camera stripping street artist’s mosaics

Theft to order suspected as 15 works by French street artist Invader are stolen in 10 days

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The theft of mosaic artworks in Paris by the French street artist Invader has sparked a public outcry. Around 15 works—characterised by pixellated imagery and made from small ceramic tiles—have been removed from the façades of buildings throughout the capital in the past 10 days, according to the French daily Libération. One was a mosaic of the Mona Lisa near the Musée du Louvre, another was a tiled ghost at Espace Cardin, often used as an exhibition venue.

Locals posted photos on social media of one of the thefts showing one man standing on a ladder and removing the tiles while his accomplice kept watch. The men, both wearing yellow jackets, claimed to be employed by the City of Paris before driving off in a Mercedes with the dismantled mosaic, according to witnesses.

However, the local authority has denied hiring the men to remove the works. “On the photos, one can see that they are dressed normally in yellow jackets that can be found anywhere, whereas council employees wear a [green] uniform,” a spokesman told Libération. “And, no, the City of Paris does not provide its employees with Mercedes.”

Although technically illegal, Invader’s works are beloved by many Parisians. Social commentators have taken to Twitter to call on the culture minister Françoise Nyssen and the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, to react. The City of Paris lodged a complaint for “usurpation of function” against the thieves last week with the police. “It is now up to the police to launch an investigation”, a spokesman for the City of Paris told The Art Newspaper.

Meanwhile, Invader has spoken out against the theft. “I consider that by removing pieces that have been on the buildings for 10 or 12 years, therefore accepted by the owners, that they [the robbers] are stealing them,” the artist told Libération. “It spoils all my summers,” he added, referring to how the thefts often take place in August when Parisians are on holiday. “But finally things have started to pick up because they [the robbers] have been surprised and photographed [committing] blatant crime, so I feel less alone.”

Born in 1969, Invader began his street art project, called Space Invaders after the Japanese video game, in 1998. Over the last two decades, he has created 3,511 World Invasion pieces in 74 cities ranging from London and New York to Marrakech and Tokyo.

Noting that his oldest pieces are “attacked” the most because they are less resistant, he said: “They [the robbers] know what they are doing and are becoming professional.” It is widely believed that the pieces are stolen on consignment. “Today, I use more powerful glue and am having more fragile tiles made so that they will break if you try to remove them.”

Invader also makes artworks that are exhibited in galleries. Like British street artist Banksy, he has seen the prices of his work skyrocket at auction. His highest-selling piece, a red and white face from 2014, made from ceramic tiles on glass panel in two parts, fetched HK$2.68m (€292,000) at Christie’s in Hong Kong in 2015, far exceeding the estimate (HK$1.2m-1.8m).