Theft for art's sake gets a viewing from police

SEVERAL police officers not noted for their appreciation of avant-garde sculpture descended on a Manchester art gallery yesterday to examine the latest work by Edward Barton.

They found it so interesting that they took it to the local police station, but not for further study of its artistic merit. Mr Barton also accompanied them for further discussions.

These revolved entirely around which supermarkets its components of nappies, washing powder, toys and cans of lager and dog food had been stolen from. The sculpture, displayed inside a metal cage, was accurately entitled Stolen.

All the items had been taken from Manchester supermarkets by shoplifters at the request of Mr Barton, 34, who lives in the city. He told a thief he met that he wanted to make a sculpture from stolen goods and the man immediately volunteered his services.

Mr Barton said: 'He and a partner went off and collected all the goods in a few hours. I watched them for part of the time but their technique was too quick for the eye.'

The title and the resulting press publicity meant that it was not the toughest case that detectives in Manchester have had to crack. They arrived at the Oblong Art Gallery within hours of Mr Barton's exhibition opening.

He said: 'They have dismantled the sculpture and are going to send the goods back to the shops they were stolen from. They seemed to consider it quite a thought-provoking piece though.'

Detective Chief Inspector John Hockey of Greater Manchester Police said: 'We have officially cautioned him but he will not be charged. It was stolen property and that is the end of the story.'

Mr Barton was strongly criticised by Steve Murphy, chairman of the Greater Manchester Police Authority. He said: 'To ask villains to commit a crime in order to stage an art exhibition must be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Only lunatics would call this art. The police are there to protect the community and this bloke is openly promoting crime. This behaviour is totally unacceptable.'

Mr Barton replied: 'I think that attitude is somewhat petty. I am not interested in the spurious glamour that stealing bequeaths, I am interested in the meaning of Stolen.'

However, the sculptor, another of whose exhibits consists of concrete traffic bollards wearing wigs, declined to say what Stolen did mean. He believes that the interpretation is up to the viewer.

(Photograph omitted)