Another impact of the poor economy: public art theft for scrap

News that police believe thieves who stole a Dame Barbara Hepworth sculpture from a London Park just want to melt it down to sell for scrap is sending ripples through the artworld.

"Two forms (Divided Circle)" stood in Dulwich Park in South London for 40 years.


Two Forms (Divided Circle) (Image courtesy of

Then Tuesday night, someone broke a padlock on a nearby gate, drove up the the piece, and used an industrial saw to separate it from its pedestal.

The chair of the local park supporters group, Trevor Moore, told the Guardian newspaper "It has always been there as long as I've been in Dulwich. 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."

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The sad fact is with the price of certain metals such and bronze and copper skyrocketing, thieves see money in the scrap value of the materials, not in what they could get for art.

A Henry Moore sculpture stolen in 2005 valued at 3 million pounds ($4,700,000) is believed to have been melted down and sold for scrap, netting the equivalent of about $2350.

"Everything is in danger now," Forecast Public Art Executive Director Jack Becker said today. "Public art is an easy target."

He pointed to a piece in USA Today which lists thefts in the US, including several bronze plaques built and installed in 1996 for the Atlanta Olympics which are being replaced with stainless steel replicas as thieves steal the originals. Apparently there's much less interest in stainless steel from scrap merchants.

Becker says while there haven't been cases on the scale of the Hepworth and Moore thefts, public art in Minnesota has also suffered. He points to how letters in the signage at the 35W memorial disappeared just hours after officials and survivors dedicated the monument. He says he doesn't know they were sold for scrap, but finds it unlikely thieves wanted the letters to make words of their own.

He also said it's common practice in the public art business to prepare for the worst. "You have to overbuild," he said, adding extra bolts, bricks and other attachments to make sure art placed in public spaces stay there.