A black market for artwork run by drug dealers could be behind recent thefts in the Auckland area, says one gallery owner.

Masterworks Gallery in Ponsonby had a glass robot sculpture stolen on Christmas Eve, reminding the owners of a string of drug-related thefts that hit the gallery in 2008.

Their concerns were heightened by a similar theft at Sanderson Gallery last week, when a shoplifter walked out with a $2000 marble sculpture of a crushed gin and tonic can.

"Artworks have been traded [to a drug dealer] to pay off debt, was our understanding," said Masterworks Gallery director Eloise Kitson of the 2008 thefts.


Her husband Derrick Paull said the dealer "took a liking to art" and made his clients steal the works.

Ms Kitson said this criminal market was an ongoing concern for small art galleries. "It had been quite a while for us, and you always have that feeling that your luck only stretches so far before the crooks decide that they'll visit you again."

Such distinctive artworks were unlikely to be re-sold in any legitimate market that requires proof of purchase, she said.

"Because our works are one-offs, you can't legally do anything with them. So it's only for the underworld of sorts. You would never actually get the proper value of anything you stole."

Despite having security camera footage of the theft, Ms Kitson doubted they will recover the stolen item.

"Sadly when things do go, they go high up the food chain and you don't often get them back. You may catch the crooks, but you don't often get the works back."

Auckland police were unable to comment on whether there is a connection between the two burglaries, or whether there is any link to drug dealers.