Gallery displays artwork appearing stolen

Department store surveillance cameras were looking straight at her, and yet artist Ann Messner continued to put one T-shirt on after the other. Unbeknownst to other shoppers, Messner was performing for the cameras.

The TCU-owned Fort Worth Contemporary Arts’ new exhibit titled “Lifting” is a show revolving around artwork that appears to be the product of theft. One of the pieces in the exhibit, Messner’s 1978 short film, is about testing social boundaries within a German department store amidst a huge sale to see others’ reactions.

“I was intentionally putting myself within the arena of surveillance,” Messner said. “That is what you would do in a store if you weren’t behaving and acting normal.”

The second exhibit since the gallery’s opening earlier this year, “Lifting” opened to the public Friday evening. The 14 pieces range from a small pile of wooden doorstops to a collection of automobile hubcaps.

“Lifting” is the brainchild of Atopia Projects, a partnership consisting of Fraser Stables, a Scottish curator, and Gavin Morrison, curator of University Galleries.

Morrison said the concept for the exhibit came after an artist friend told her she found herself stealing from other artists.

The Igor Stravinsky quote “Lesser artists borrow; great artists steal” is inscribed on the wall of the gallery, serving as a summary of what Morrison said the exhibit is about.

“It’s really a negotiation of where that changes from theft and what it really means to steal within an art practice,” Morrison said.

While some of the pieces are simple, others required planning. One of the more intricately planned pieces caught the eye of senior communications major Ashley Townsend.

Joel Ross’ piece entitled “Room 28” is a depiction of the artist’s claim to have vandalized a motel room in one night as shown by two photos and a statement. The placard accompanying the work explains that “it puts the viewer in a position of speculation.”

“I liked the one in which they stole all the mirrors, furniture and fixtures in the hotel room in one night,” Townsend said. “They paid cash for the room so they couldn’t be tracked down so I find it pretty humorous.”

Townsend found the hotel piece funny, but the topic of theft may cause different opinions of the artwork. Messner’s short film implies that she stole the multiple T-shirts that she put on, but she said that she would never reveal whether she actually committed a crime.

“It takes away from the tension of the work, which is that you don’t know,” Messner said. “It doesn’t actually become theft until you walk outside the door, and you don’t see me do that.”