Police baffled as thieves steal artwork from city street in centre of Bath

A large installation by textile artist Alison Harper, which aims to raise awareness of air pollution and urge people to switch to greener transport, was taken from a Bath Street in a mystery theft that some think may have been politically motivated.

A new theft is rocking the art world. After burglars made away with Maurizio Cattelan’s solid gold loo, which was stolen from Blenheim Palace in September, another installation has vanished, this time from a Bath street.

Titled Hotspots, the piece, by textile artist Alison Harper, featured 69 red bicycle wheels wrapped in a range of different fibres. It had been put in place in George Street, in the heart of the city, on September 22 to highlight the plight of air pollution.

Ms Harper’s work focuses on the depletion of natural resources and on the tension between wasting and valuing and caring and not caring, and her installation shone the light on an area of Bath that saw really high levels of nitrogen dioxide, well above the legal limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre.

Just as with Blenheim’s gold loo, stealing the Bath art installation must have needed careful preparation. By way of a comparison, putting the piece in place required 18 people— all members of environmental campaign group Transition Larkhall — and taking it away can’t have been any easier.

‘The artwork is really difficult to remove, as it was all attached by cable ties to one another and to the railings,’ Ms Harper told Somerset Live. ‘[It] is really big and bulky, it fills two cars when we move it around the city so it must have been very well planned.’

Quite why thieves would go to such great lengths, however, remains a mystery. It’s hard to believe they would do it as a prank, and, unlike the Cattelan work, which many, including the artist himself, thought may have been stolen for the sheer worth of the materials (it’s made with 227 pounds of 18-carat gold), the bicycle wheels have no real intrinsic value. If Ms Harper had not collected and recycled them, they would have probably ended up in a landfill.

Some, however, think the reasons for the theft may have been political. The work was an indictment against the deterioration of air quality caused by exhaust fumes and exhorted the public to ditch cars in favour of cleaner transport. ‘Obviously, people just don’t want to know that air pollution kills people,’ Bath councillor Joanna Wright told Somerset Live.

If the plan was to suppress the environmental message, however, it backfired. Ms Harper, who took 18 months to complete the red-bike piece, is undeterred and intends to create a new installation, this time including some white bike wheels to symbolise the way people’s lives have been affected by pollution. ‘I will not be stopping, these people can’t stop me,’ she told Somerset Live. ‘I want to turn this into something positive.’

Anyone who has information should contact Avon and Somerset police, quoting reference number 5219229940.