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Art Museum Theft Invites Generosity

(Photo: Randy Stewart)

Last month the Springfield Art Museum suffered the loss of seven rare Andy Warhol screen prints from the iconic Campbell's Soup I portfolio--they were stolen right off the walls of the museum. The theft is still under FBI investigation. Meanwhile, the story of the early-morning break-in and heist went viral: news agencies from the New York Times to Reuters to NBC News carried the story around the world. The Springfield Art Museum has received expressions of shock, outrage, and even grief, from artists and art lovers on an international scale.

As it happens, a couple of years ago Colorado artist Lindsey Wohlman  completed a series of photographs in homage to Warhol's deadpan depictions of Campbell's Soup cans.  She calls it Warhol Naked and Unlabeled--and that's a pretty succinct description of Wohlman's images.  She created molds of soup cans, took the contents of several varieties of Campbell's soup, mixed gelatin with the soups to firm them up, put them in the molds, and thook photos of perfect soup can-shaped blobs of Chicken Noodle, Bean with Bacon, Split Pea, Tomato, and other Campbell's varieties. Wohlman was one of many people in the worldwide art community angered and saddened by the Warhol theft here in Springfield, says Art Museum Curator Sarah Buhr.

She says Wohlman wrote a post on her website dedicated to Springfield Art Museum Executive Director Nick Nelson, "basically saying that she felt for us, and that the blank walls called out to her. She was hearing a lot of talk about money and insurance and things like that, but what she kept thinking as an artist is 'Oh, those blank walls! There's a void.' And she had made this series a few years prior, inspired by Warhol's soup cans. And so she offered to donate the works to us.  We are not keeping them, but we are borrowing them because we thought, what a great opportunity to do something, to have a voice in what's happened.  Because that's the other part--we really haven't been able to say much about how we feel, how the community might feel, because there is an ongoing investigation.  So this was a way for us to do what we do, which is make exhibits and display art, and kind of talk about what that aloss might mean for us."

Sarah can't say any more about the theft itself because of the FBI investigation.  So the question I've been dying to ask Sarah Buhr--or somebody in the know--is: okay, someone stole some valuable artwork, worth a half million dollars to the Springfield Art Museum.  What did they hope to accomplish, especially since the heist has been so heavily publicized all over the world?  Did whoever stole the prints expect to be able to sell them somehow?  As Sarah says, "Well, you really can't sell something like this, especially a print series, because these are editioned (i.e. numbered, and thus easily identifiable).  So any normal route for selling artwork, like Southeby's or Christie's, or a gallery or dealership, they already know that the pieces are stolen, and you cannot sell through them. So it would have to be some sort of black market or underground or even maybe somebody who just really, really loved the work and had to possess it!  I don't know.  But yeah, you could not sell it through normal (channels). So it seems sort of ridiculous."

Lindsey Wohlman hopes her personal take on Warhol's prints will help fill the void until they are recovered and returned to the Art Museum, and the Museum has Wohlman's photographs prominently displayed in their main entrance foyer.  In addition, Wohlman issued a statement expressing the idea that "food and art nourish," and hoping that this will help "bring the community together (to) work to help those in need."  To that end, the Springfield Art Museum is collaborating with Ozarks Food Harvest, says Sarah Buhr, on a canned-food drive in conjunction with this exhibit. "The artist's generosity to us led us to think about what we could do to give back to our community.  So if you come visit the Museum--of course, we're always free--but if you can, please bring non-perishable food items.  We're collecting them and giving them to Ozarks Food Harvest, and they'll distribute."  The Wohlman series will be at the Art Museum through the end of August, and the food drive will continue for the duration of the exhibit. 

For more information visit, or call 837-5700.

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