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Ni siquiera la pandemia disuadió a los cientos de visitantes de la galería Same, en Tokio. Photo: The Observer.
Not even a pandemic deterred the hundreds of visitors to the Same Gallery in Tokyo. Photo: The Observer.

Art you can steal: The curious experiment that turns the audience into thieves

No security staff and open 24 hours a day, these were the premises of an exhibition in Tokyo that invited visitors to take whatever they wanted. However, no…

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While museums and galleries around the world are no longer taking extreme security measures to prevent art theft, they are ensuring that visitors - who are otherwise quite rare these days - do not steal each other's health. With this in mind, the Same Gallery in Tokyo took advantage of the "new abnormality" to try a unique experiment that went beyond subverting the roles of artist and spectator, and invited the latter to a most blatant pillage. 

Under the enticing name "Exhibition of Stealable Art," Same opened its doors on July 10 to inaugurate an exhibition to which security members of the venue were not invited, but where attendees were encouraged to take any of the works on display in the gallery, which was to be open 24 hours a day as if it were a free buffet. The dream of a lazy white-collar thief 

The only rule in this exhibition of stealable art was, of course, that it would end when there were no more things to steal. 

What its creators did not imagine was that people would have such a long hand.

As reported by the Japan Times, the experiment included some works by artists such as Gabin Ito, Joji Nakamura and Merge Majurdan, and it had no pretensions to be anything more than an intellectual game. But as social media echoed that there was a free-art open bar at Same, people went crazy and took to the streets to get a piece of an artist's soul. 

Up to two hundred people showed up at the gallery on opening night and left it empty in minutes, when the experiment was supposed to last 10 days. 

"On the day of the event, there were more people than we expected, so we had to discuss it and open before the scheduled opening time to avoid confusion at the site," Same explained on his website. 

"We want to sincerely apologize to all the residents of the neighborhood and to those who could not see the play despite coming at the scheduled time. This exhibition was not originally designed with the intention of causing such confusion," they concluded.  

Neither the threat of contagion nor masks deterred the first-time thieves, who crowded the gallery in Shinagawa Ward until the police had to mediate to remind them that in the midst of the pandemic, tumultuous gatherings were not allowed. 

The most incredible thing happened within hours, when the stolen works began to appear on online auction sites with prices hovering around $1,000. 

The experiment, which also explored our relationship with the laws and our desire to break them, is reminiscent of another performance in 1974 by Serbian artist Marina Abramovic. In her case, 72 instruments, including a loaded gun and a knife, were displayed to the public for six hours, so they could do with the artist as they pleased. Her idea was to reflect on trust and the social contract, but what this performance entitled Rhythm 0 actually addressed was the violence inherent in human beings. 

Abramovic herself recalled this: 

"What I learned was that if you let the audience decide, they can kill you. I felt really attacked: they cut off my clothes, they stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person held a gun to my head and another took it off," she said, adding: 

"After exactly six hours, according to plan, I got up and started walking towards the audience. Everyone escaped, avoiding a real confrontation."

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