In a New Show, Nick Smith Questions The Value of Stolen Artworks

May 2, 2019

A contemporary British artist with a unique visual language, Nick Smith combines digital design with fine art, exploring the relationship between audience, image and text. Deconstructing images from art history, he undertakes extensive research to annotate each color swatch with a word, creating a linear narrative to subvert or support the context of each image and add an additional layer of information.

The upcoming exhibition at Rhodes Contemporary Art is a continuation of Smith's exhibition Priceless where he explored the precariousness of the art marketTitled Pinched, this show explores the notion of art theft, focusing on what happens to ideas of value once an artwork has been stolen.

Klimt - Portrait of a Woman, Rembrandt - Storm on the sea of Galilee
Left: Nick Smith - Klimt - Portrait of a Woman / Right: Nick Smith - Rembrandt - Storm on the sea of Galilee

The Absence of Stolen Artworks

After visually breaking down an image, Nick Smith reconstructs it by using Pantone swatch cutouts, creating pixelated works of art. The artist produces abstract works with objective text content, engaging the viewer and encouraging further contemplations. In the latest body of work, Smith explores how is it possible to translate the stolen artwork into monetary value.

He focuses on surprising art heists, such as the theft of the Mona Lisa in the early 1900s from the Louvre, which contributed to the dramatic elevation of the artwork in the popular consciousness. Smith explores the absence of these works within art history, cultural identity and public consciousness. For this series, the artist engaged in extensive research, drawing on information collected from media archives, crime reports, CCTV, police statements and the most wanted list of the twentieth century’s biggest art heists.

Madonna the Yarnwinder, Da Vinci - Mona Lisa
Left: Nick Smith - Da Vinci - Madonna the Yarnwinder / Right: Nick Smith - Da Vinci - Mona Lisa


The exhibition brings together 20 new artworks which are the reworkings of both instantly recognizable stolen artworks and some lesser known ones, including Vermeer’s The Concert and Munch’s The Scream.

As the color methodology is a significant part of Smith’s oeuvre, he used his trademark Pantone swatch cutouts to create specter-like chromatic blurs of images that have remained potent forces despite no longer being available for public consumption. This body of work highlights the absurdity and intrigue left in the wake of these heists.

Theft of a Hirst CCTV - (Microchip), Turner - Found
Left: Nick Smith - Theft of a Hirst CCTV - (Microchip) / Right: Nick Smith - Turner - Found

Nick Smith Exhibition at Rhodes Contemporary Art

As Smith explains, each stolen piece represents a partial loss of our heritage and art history.

My fascination is not with the images themselves, but the stories behind the thefts. What is the motivation? And how does the theft influence the artwork’s place in our current cultural landscape?

The exhibition Pinched will be on view at Rhodes Contemporary Art in London from May 2nd until June 1st, 2019. The private view will take place on May 2nd, while the opening reception will take place on May 3rd.

Featured image: Nick Smith - Da Vinci - Madonna the Yarnwinder (detail). All images courtesy Rhodes Contemporary Art.

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