Flora Carr reports on the extraordinary story of how far students will go for an internship.
I am browsing through Facebook when a girl from school pops up on my newsfeed. “Can’t believe we got away with this today!” she writes excitedly, “Extreme dedication. #StudentsStealArtforInternship”. Underneath is a link to a video. Intrigued, I click on it. The 36 second video shows two girls, dressed all in black, removing a small painting from a wall within a gallery and walking out, heads bowed, to the complete confusion of a couple of security guards.
I almost laughed – there was something so St. Trinians about it, from the ballsy way the girls (including the girl from school) stroll nonchalantly out, the painting tucked under one girl’s arm, to the way they were both dressed like the robbers from Home Alone, complete with black beanies and gloves. It all seemed like a scene from a movie. And yet the theft was a genuine one – and from the Scottish National Gallery, no less.
It was on 7 February that ‘The Portrait of Cecilia Margaret’, dating back to 1826 and painted by the artist Christen Købke, was removed from the gallery. The video I saw on Facebook was also sent to The Student by the team of six students who had master-minded the theft… and all this for an internship. In its briefing to applicants for its internship, KesselsKramer, a communications agency based in Amsterdam and London, gave students 30 hours to “visually communicate the word ‘Notoriety’ in their groups”, telling them that “conceptual thinking will be applauded loudly. Sitting on your ass will not. So be reckless, be ambitious and make it heard”. They also joked that they wouldn’t bail out any group arrested, but would visit them, a joke that now seems ironic given the pretty serious, albeit amusing nature of the theft.
Fullist states, the students’ actions are likely to turn out to be “the perfect crime” – the picture goes back on display in the gallery, no one gets in trouble and these guys get the internship they deserve”, it makes you think not only about the extreme competitiveness of gaining internships today (sorry fellow students), or even the effectiveness of the security guards in the Scottish National Gallery, but also about how far conceptual art has come. From Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 signed urinal Fountain to Tracey Emin’s dishevelled bed, Damien Hirst’s suspended shark and Andrea Fraser’s 2004 video Untitled, a document of her sexual encounter in a hotel room with a collector, it is amazing how much our concept of art has shifted.
A dead shark in formaldehyde can represent the idea of death in the mind of the living, whilst a video of two students stealing a painting from a national gallery can represent just one word; and whether they return the painting, are arrested or win the internship, all of the six students have succeeded in creating a hilarious piece of conceptual art. More than that; they’ve succeeded in becoming ‘notorious’.
The National Galleries of Scotland’s official statement is as follows:
We are aware that a video was posted on Youtube recently showing a group of young people appearing to remove an item from the Scottish National Gallery. We can confirm that no items were taken from our collection. This incident was observed by NGS security staff who were able to confirm that this was a student prank involving a reproduction of a painting.
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