This Helen Gotlib painting, Pot and Box, was stolen from the Uptown Art Fair.

This Helen Gotlib painting, Pot and Box, was stolen from the Uptown Art Fair.

Days after the crowds went home and the last artist’s booth was taken down at the Uptown Art Fair, painter Helen Gotlib is still waiting to hear what happened to her painting.

The last the Michigan-based artist saw of her piece, “Pot and Box,” it was hanging in her booth. Priced at $6,575, the painting went missing overnight on Saturday, Aug. 4, the last night of the show. It was just one of the works taken when thieves hit six booths that night, according to police.

“I wish I knew the people who had the piece and that they would be happy to keep seeing my artwork and collecting it! And not wondering if it was in an alleyway somewhere getting rained on,” she wrote in an email.

The six artists’ stolen artwork was valued at a total of $17,845, according to Minneapolis police Sgt. William Palmer. He said artists were told not to leave valuables in their booths overnight during the fair.

Gotlib, who said it's common for art fairs to tell artists that they leave the art in their tent at their own risk, said she still expected better security from Uptown organizers, who told her they had 24-hour security on the premises. After exhibiting at about 12 shows a year for the past nine years, this was the first time she ever had something stolen, she said. “This show acts like it’s par for the course,” she wrote.

Thanks to warnings from her father, she bought insurance, and will get covered for her losses.
After she reported it to the police, Gotlib learned from the show’s organizers that booths in her area of the fair had seen thefts in past years. “If it’s been a problem for years my question is ‘Why have they not taken those spots away years ago?’” said Gotlib.

The stolen artwork was too large to slip under someone’s shirt, said Gotlib. Pot and Box was four feet by three feet.

The International Festivals and Events Association bestowed the “Best Public Safety Plan for an Event” award on the 2010 Uptown Art Fair. The award recognized the organizer’s plan for handling all manner of disasters, from theft of artwork to severe weather to deadly accidents. According to notes accompanying the award, the fair’s 2010 revenue was $846,655, with security expenses totaling $32,500.

As news of the latest thefts spread among artists, some took to the Uptown Art Fair’s Facebook page to vent: “It is a sad day when one of the few shows in the country with theft and vandalism issues is given an international award for security and safety,” wrote Benjamin Frey.

“Why are you continuing to ask about it?” asked Maude Lovell, executive director of the Uptown Association, when contacted by the Star Tribune this week. Asked how many artists had lost artwork, Lovell said, “It was a small number with a small amount of pieces,” she said. Lovell added that the police continue to investigate.

Gotlib had asked if the Uptown Art Fair Facebook page would post a picture of her stolen piece, in case anyone noticed where it ended up. Lovell said the Uptown organization chose not to do that on the advice of the police. "It's still early in the investigation," she said.