Entertainment & Arts

Conrad Shawcross hopes new sculpture is theft-proof

Conrad Shawcross
Image caption Shawcross, pictured with his latest work, found fame when his wooden sculpture, The Nervous System, was bought by Charles Saatchi in 2004

Artist Conrad Shawcross has made his latest giant public sculptures out of cheap metal in the hope that it will deter thieves.

His looping creations, Three Perpetual Chords, are set to be unveiled on Saturday in London's Dulwich Park.

The artwork was commissioned to replace a Barbara Hepworth sculpture stolen from the park in 2011.

The Hepworth, insured for £500,000, had been there since 1970. It is thought to have been taken by metal thieves.

The insurance money from the stolen bronze Two Forms (Divided Circle) was used to pay for - and insure - Shawcross's new work.

The much-in-demand artist, who at 37 is the youngest living member of the Royal Academy of Arts, told the BBC that the issue of theft had been on his mind when he was pitching his ideas to Southwark Council.

Image copyright Friends of Dulwich Park
Image caption Barbara Hepworth's Divided Circle was stolen from Dulwich Park in 2011

"It is something that everyone was very nervous about," he said. "They wanted there to be no incentive to steal it. Even stainless steel was, in their eyes, a bit too expensive, so it forced me to look at other materials."

So Shawcross created Three Perpetual Chords using cast iron - the material used in sewer pipes and manhole covers.

"It has a natural patina, and you couldn't break this up if you came in here with a sledgehammer," he said. "The piece would only be worth a few pounds in terms of its resale value as recycled metal."

There has been a spate of thefts of metal artworks in recent years as the price of certain metals has risen.

One of the most recent high-profile cases involved the theft in 2012 of a Henry Moore sundial sculpture valued at up to £500,000 from the grounds of the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire.

The distinctive bronze artwork was found after a televised appeal on Crimewatch, but not before it had been sold as scrap metal for £46. Two men were jailed.

Seven years earlier, a bronze statue worth £3m was stolen from the same museum - the sculptor's former home - and was never recovered.

In March this year, a five-tonne copper and bronze sculpture was taken from the grounds of the Watts Gallery Estate in Guildford, Surrey. The contemporary water feature by artist William Pye was valued at over £60,000.

Image copyright Joe Plommer
Image caption Conrad Shawcross and his team install Three Perpetual Chords in Dulwich Park

Fabienne Nicholas, of the Contemporary Art Society, which helped commission the Shawcross sculptures, thought there would be "an incredibly low risk" the new works would be stolen.

"Their scale makes them very difficult to remove from the park and they are made out of one of the least valued metals. Even for the most enterprising metal thief it would cost them more to get the truck and crane to remove them than it would to melt them down."

Shawcross wants his three sculptures to become a focal point for visitors to the park. His aim was to create something opposite to "austere and monumental" civic sculptures.

"I can imagine people sitting in them playing their guitars or bongo drums or even having a picnic," he said. "I hope unexpected things will be done with them."

But, he hopes, that doesn't include them ending up in the hands of a scrap metal dealer.

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