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Public Sculpture Is Latest Victim of Scrap Metal Theft Epidemic

by Liza Eliano on December 21, 2011

Barbara Hepworth's stolen sculpture "Two Form (Divided Circle)" (1969) in Dulwich Park, South London (image via cbcnews.com)

BBC reported yesterday that a sculpture by the esteemed British artist Barbara Hepworth has been stolen from Dulwich Park in South London. Scrap metal thieves are suspected to be behind the theft, indicative of a growing problem with scrap metal theft in the UK. The bronze sculpture, titled “Two Form (Divided Circle)” from 1969, was pulled from its plinth on Monday night. The work, which has resided in Dulwich Park since 1970, is insured for £500,000 (about 784,450 USD), but is estimated to yield as little as £750 (roughly 1,176 USD) when melted down for scrap.

Hepworth (1903 – 1975) is highly regarded for her progressive modernist abstract sculptures, including her largest work, “Single Form,” which stands in the United Nations Plaza in NYC. Simon Wallis, director of the Hepworth Wakefield, a gallery devoted to Hepworth’s legacy, notes about “Two Form”:

There’s no doubt it is a very significant work from the latter part of her career. It’s an important piece and a very beautiful piece, and beautiful to see it in that outdoor setting. That’s one of the reasons it’s so sad that someone’s whipped it for the scrap metal. It will be irreplaceable.

The theft comes a day after Scotland Yard’s initiation of a new unit to combat scrap metal theft. Metal thieves are scouring the country for copper, bronze and lead, stealing everything from railway lines and phone lines to public monuments and selling the metal to scrap yards for a small profit.

Last month thieves tore a sculpture of the well-loved social reformer Dr Alfred Salter from a bench near the River Thames in South London, prompting Southwark Council to hide the accompanying statues of Salter’s daughter and her cat in case they too were targeted. Metal theft also hit closer to home last January when five bronze sculptures were stolen outside the Phillip Ratner Museum of Art in Bethesda, Maryland. When police found the sculptures they were damaged beyond repair.

BBC reported back in September that public artworks were increasingly being remade with fiberglass due to metal thefts, but often times it’s impossible to make replicas of statues that are too old and no longer have their original plans. Not only does scrap metal theft destroy public art, but beyond public art it also costs London’s economy about £700 million (about $1.09 billion USD) a year.

Homepage image from Southwark Council/Associated Press, via huffingtonpost.co.uk

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