Art sleuths pinpoint wandering sculpture

By Josie McNaught

Terry Urbahn and Carole Anne Meehan reunited with the sculpture. Photo / Janna Dixon
Terry Urbahn and Carole Anne Meehan reunited with the sculpture. Photo / Janna Dixon

The orange and yellow wooden temple designed as a public artwork has had a rough life so far.

It's been tipped upside down, set on fire, stomped on, moved to two different sites and stolen. And it might never have been seen again if it weren't for the help of the internet and satellite technology.

The artwork, Wihaan, by Auckland artists Tessa Laird and Tiffany Singh, disappeared from Constitution Hill, at the corner of Alten Rd and Symonds St, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Set on a wooden plinth, it would have been heavy to shift, Laird said, and whoever took it would have needed tools and a van.

Singh noticed Wihaan was missing in early January and contacted Terry Urbahn of the Auckland Council's public art team, who reported the theft to the police.

But it was the public art team who tracked down the thief. They posted a photograph of the artwork on their Facebook page asking for information.

That posting led to the temple being returned within 24 hours, thanks to the sharp eyes of an Auckland woman.

The woman, who does not want to be named, saw the temple in a Westmere garden when she was visiting a friend. She didn't know the actual address but photographed the property on her phone and emailed the picture to the council.

The super-sleuths at the council used Google Maps and Google Earth for help. Zooming in on a street location, they pinpointed the property with the help of the photo.

The council staff gave the street address to the police who moved in quickly. They arrested a man at the address and retrieved the artwork. Bizarrely, a set of wheels had been added to the plinth so the temple could be moved around more easily.

"It was quite exciting getting the work back so quickly and it hasn't been badly damaged," Urbahn said.

A man is in custody and will appear in court tomorrow on a charge of receiving stolen goods.

Constable Dan Griffiths said the accused refused to reveal how the artwork came to be at his home, other than to say it "turned up on Christmas Day".

Wihaan was originally installed in Albert Park but was resited after attacks by vandals.

Auckland Council's manager of public art, Carole Anne Meehan, said the artwork would be reinstalled more securely on Constitution Hill.

Also stolen is a heavy carved marble sculpture by Martin Selman, based on a crushed gin-and-tonic can, taken from the Sanderson gallery in Parnell on January 1. A reward has been offered for its return.

- Herald on Sunday

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