Thieves Stole More Than $1 Million Worth of Parts From an Anselm Kiefer Sculpture

Thieves are enticed by the value of the raw material not the artwork itself, even though the latter is much higher.

The painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer comes to the award ceremony of the German National Prize in the French Friedrichstadt Church. Photo: Jens Kalaene/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Parts from a lead sculpture by Anselm Kiefer have been stolen from a warehouse in France, it was revealed last week in court. The work has been seriously damaged, and the German artist has estimated that the overall losses amount to more than $1 million.

The thefts took place at around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of November 30 at Keifer’s warehouse in Croissy-Beaubourg, a town about 14 miles east of Paris. Security arrived on the scene within around 20 minutes and chased the thieves away.

“CCTV footage showed four individuals breaching the car park barrier, entering the premises and cutting through the steel fence surrounding the work, before making off with lead books that were part of it,” said Jean-Baptiste Bladier, the prosector for the nearby town of Meaux, according to the Guardian.

Anselm Kiefer, Zweistromland/The High Priestess (1985–89). Photo: Sigrid Harms/picture alliance via Getty Images.

Renown for his examinations of post-war German identity, Kiefer has been using lead for decades thanks to his interest in medieval alchemy. In works like The High Priestess/Zweistromland (1985–89), two book cases stacked with vast lead books, the material lends the installation a gray monumentality and symbolizes the weight of knowledge.

As a result of his love of lead, the artist has been frequently targeted by thieves who are interested in his work for the resale value of its raw materials rather than its artistic worth, even if the latter is much greater. A major theft occurred at the same workshop in 2016, and though a security guard arrived on the scene, the perpetrators managed to get away. They had taken lead that in its raw form was worth just €1,670 ($1,860), although the damaged sculpture had an estimated value of around €1.3 million ($1.4 million).

In 2008, 7.5 tons of lead were stolen from a previous workshop in Barjac. Another attempted theft took place in 2019, but although the targeted sculpture was damaged, the thieves were interrupted by a security guard and fled the scene. The Meaux judicial police did not yet confirm whether any suspects have been identified.


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