Police are on the lookout for art thieves who broke into Tate Modern in the early hours of yesterday morning and made off with a single porcelain sunflower seed, one of the eight million that form part of an installation recently acquired from the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
Police are baffled as to how the thieves were able to bypass the museum’s hi-tech security alarm system and navigate their way around the corridors undetected in the still of night. It wasn’t until staff arrived at the museum just minutes before opening time that they noticed one of the seeds was missing.
‘This was an audacious, well planned and meticulously orchestrated robbery,’ said Richard Ellis from the Metropolitan Police Art and Antiques Squad, ‘and we think the thieves could strike again. These are highly intelligent, well-informed thieves at the top of their game and at this stage we can’t rule out an attempt on another sunflower seed.’
The thieves ignored works by Turner and Georg Baselitz on their way through the Turbine Hall which has led police to think the seed may have been stolen to order and could already be in the hands of a collector.
‘The porcelain seed is quite distinctive and would be impossible to sell on the open market,’ added Ellis. ‘It is made from a highly-glazed ceramic material and looks exactly like the sort of seed you find on a sunflower.’
‘Apart from the remaining 7,999,999 left at the museum, there are probably only another 90,000,000 in the whole world. The thieves will be hard pressed to offload it unless they already have a buyer in mind. At this stage we can’t rule out a ransom demand for the seed.’
The Art Council, which helped fund the purchase of the installation, is said to be devastated by the theft and has offered a reward of 4p for the safe return of the art work, a figure well in excess of a regular sunflower seed’s current street value.
‘Without the seed the installation is incomplete, ruined,’ said curator Neville Hampton-Wood. ‘The public would simply laugh in our face if we allowed them to see it in this state. Unless we get the seed back it will have been a complete waste of £10 million.’
Earl Van Dyke