Provocative Brooklyn artists Eva and Franco Mattes have work on view at Postmasters Gallery in Chelsea that they have kept secret for 15 years. “Stolen Pieces” is an exhibit of dozens of tiny fragments of masterpieces by Kandinsky, Duchamp, and Andy Warhol, that the couple stole from museums in the US and Europe over a period of two years.
The pair dreamed up the adventure when they became frustrated with the experience of viewing vibrant masterpieces in staid museum environments.
“We wanted to prove that these works were alive,” Mattes says. “We wanted to revitalize these works that were so powerful and so revolutionary and so subversive. We thought that by stealing a little tiny piece of it, somehow we would be putting back new life into these works."
The pieces taken by the couple include a piece of shoelace clipped from a Claes Oldenburg sculpture, a porcelain chip from the urinal of Marcel Duchamp's famous "Fountain," and a manufacturer's label peeled from the aquarium in Jeff Koons' 1985 work, "One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank."
Mattes admits that he sometimes worries about the legal consequences of his actions.
“I hope there won't be any, but it's part of the game,” he says.
“People tend to see all art as a kind of relic which has this superpower, something that’s almost beyond comprehension, and that is something I’m trying to question,” Mattes says. “These works are not holy. They’re not relics. It’s way more dynamic than one would think, and I don’t think that we should look at art with that kind of reverence.”
Mattes does not worry that his actions will spawn very many imitators, mainly because of the difficulty involved in eluding attentive museum guards.
“You don’t just go into a museum and grab a piece and run out,” he said. “Sometimes it took me three days to get the piece I really wanted.”