Public art theft is 'lesson learned'

Public art theft is 'lesson learned'

CHAMPAIGN — Of the 10 sculptures the Public Art League hopes to install soon in Champaign and Urbana, one likely will go in a secure public indoor space.

That's because the Art League, a group of private citizens who formed just two years ago, learned a lesson when someone ripped apart and sold as scrap one of the sculptures it had placed in downtown Champaign last year.

"It's unfortunate, but when you put something in a public place you have to deal with things like that," said David Wilcoxen, president of the league. "It's a lesson learned. If we pick one that's fragile, it will be put indoors, in a more secure public space."

Thomas McNeal, 57, of Champaign faces a Class 3 felony charge of theft in connection with the incident. On May 16 he appeared in court and waived his right to a preliminary hearing, pleaded not guilty and requested a jury trial. He was released on his own recognizance. His next court appearance is set for July 3.

McNeal allegedly ripped apart Eureka artist Bob Emser's "Sky Catcher III" that had been installed near First and Chester streets, and then took the aluminum and stainless steel parts to Marco Recycling in Champaign for cash.

After the league discovered the "Sky Catcher III" was missing, treasurer Eric Robeson began searching area scrap yards.

"I was just quite shocked — there it was," he said. "I think the folks at Marko recognized it as something that wasn't a normal thing to bring in. We called the police and the police took it into evidence and the case is now pending."

Robeson and Wilcoxen hope that Emser, once the case is closed and the evidence is released, can reassemble the sculpture. Its asking price is $18,000. The sponsor of the lease for "Sky Catcher III" was the Robeson Family Benefit Fund.

The Public Art League has installed 19 sculptures in Champaign and Urbana over the past two years. This is the first time a sculpture was vandalized and then stolen. Extreme weather has harmed some of the sculptures, but those were repaired.

"It's really too bad," Robeson said. "We were just sick about it, of course. Hopefully we'll be able to get it back and have it put back together again."

For now, the League looks forward to an unveiling, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. June 26 at the Big Grove Tavern, 1 E. Main St., C, of the next 10 sculptures it hopes to have installed in Champaign and Urbana.

The public is welcome to attend the free event.

The league will show slides of the 10 sculptures, created by artists nationwide, and then try to find sponsors willing to pay the $2,000 lease for each one. "We can't do anything without money," Wilcoxen said.

Each sponsored piece will remain in town for two years and then be returned to the artist unless someone — a business or individual — purchases the sculpture either to leave in place or move to another site.

The Community Foundation of East Central Illinois recently gave the Public Art League a $6,000 grant to permanently site a sculpture in downtown Champaign. It will be one from the 18 now installed or from the new ones to be shown next week.

The jury panel that selected the nine sculptures suitable for outdoor installation and one for an indoor space was made up of Robin Hall, Lawrence Hamlin, Carolyn Baxley, Nan Goggin and Pat Samman. The panel was led by Alan Mette, a league board member and the executive associate director of the School of Art + Design at the University of Illinois.

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auntsonyas wrote on June 18, 2012 at 8:06 am

I think the "lesson learned" is the reminder that while local groups are funding art for the masses, the masses are still looking for ways to feed their families. Take care of the real problems first. 

ronaldo wrote on June 18, 2012 at 9:06 am

There are no less than four foodbanks, as well as a handfull of soup kitchens and free lunch programs in this community which provide food at no cost to combat hunger, so unless you have some inside information that you'd like to share, it's a long shot to assume he was starving and that he was feeding his family.

On the other hand, there are no organizations providing free crack which is more likely where the spoils of his plundering went.

Nice try, though.

Feltrino wrote on June 22, 2012 at 11:06 am

"it's a long shot to assume he was starving and that he was feeding his family"

But, it is not a long shot to assume that the spoils of his plundering went to crack?

Nice try.

jdmac44 wrote on June 18, 2012 at 10:06 am

They should just put ATM's with a code on a sign at the side of the sculptures that are at risk of being stolen, explain that they'd rather give you cash and a fifteen minute head start before the police come.

Molly1 wrote on June 18, 2012 at 11:06 am

If people are going to pay to put the art up, it seems ashame to hide it in a more secure location. 


Might I suggest that if you have another metal sculpture to instead hook it up to an electric fence transformer.  These should be able to be picked up at Rural King or other local stores, and hooked up to the sculpture.  Then whenever someone touches the art, they will get a nice little 'reminder' that they are not supposed to touch it.  Seems to work for wildlife out on the farm. 


Then of course place the accompanying small fence 3 feet around the sculpture to prevent accidental touching, and place the mandatory sign at the bottom stating that "touching is not permitted, and doing so will be at your own risk".

Local Yocal wrote on June 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm
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When U of I graduate Mark Nepperman, in 2009, stole Native American Artist Egdar Heap of Birds' "Beyond the Chief" artistic graphic signs that commerated who owned the land first, a Canadian art appraiser estimated the signs to be worth $10,000 a piece. The State's Attorney refused to honor the value of the signs and instead valued the work at $300 because that's how much the sign fabrication company charged the artist to make his idea. The thief Nepperman, caught on video camera stealing the signs, was only charged with a misdemeanor.

In the above case, the State's Attorney ignores the amount Marcos Steel paid for the scrap metal, and instead is honoring the $18,000 asking-price of the caucasion artist. The defendant is being charged with a Class 3 felony, subject to 2-5 years in the penetentiary- and a felony conviction that will haunt the rest of his working life.

The real lessons learned: the artwork of minority artists is worth just the cost of materials, while the artwork of caucasions is worth exactly what the artist claims it's worth. Drunken U of I students are more valuable and worthy of leniency, while suspected crack addicts are to be thrown the book at.

Fromthearea wrote on June 18, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I think this is a very good point to make.  Thank you for the insight.

ronaldo wrote on June 19, 2012 at 10:06 am

Your premise is full of holes, Yocal.  In the case of the "Beyond the Chief" yard sign theft, $300 was MORE THAN generous as far as a value being assigned and the thief should have been treated no differently than the lefties who steal political yard signs because they think it will affect the outcome of an election.  The thief stole mere neighborhood print shop copies of an original work, not an original, and they can be reprinted for about $15 each.  The original was not involved in this theft.  Using your logic (or lack thereof), had Michael McNeal stole a $0.35 CVS reprint of a photograph of the sculpture, you'd have a point.  If you shoplifted a $19.99 copy of Munch's "Scream" from Spencer's, should you face the same justice as Bjørn Hoen having stolen the original from the Munch Museum?

Sometimes it pays to compare apples to apples, my friend, and to quit using the overplayed race card which only works on non-thinkers.

Mark Taylor wrote on June 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

I know, right? These ding dang lefties we got are stealing them dang yard signs all the heck over town, aren't they? I mean, we've never seen a report of it or a conviction but we just know in our guts that they steal them signs, don't we? All the time. When we're talking about them dang communistical fascistic lefties doing wrong, we don't need evidence or proof or anything like that; we know it's true cause that's HOW THEY ARE, RIGHT?

And you're right about that Indian 'art,' too. Nothing but a dang road sign, that's all. My dang eight year old could have fabricated one of them. I know what art is, and that ain't it.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on June 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm
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Rietz charged Nepermann based on the mens rea she could prove.

 

Read about it here.

 

Sancho Panza wrote on June 18, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I'm afraid I don't agree with your argument.  I think what they are judging is the replacement cost of the art.  Yard signs can easily be reprinted for $300.  Prints are not valued the way that sculptures, paintings, etc. are valued.

It would probably would cost about $18,000 to fabricate a new metal sculpture, which is what the people paid the first time around.  Besides, the State's attourney valued the sculpture at less than $10,000 because...

 

(4) Theft of property from the person not exceeding  $500 in value, or theft of property exceeding $500 and not exceeding $10,000 in value, is a Class 3 felony.

If the State's Attorney valued it at $18,000, then it would have been a Class 2 felony.

Local Yocal wrote on June 18, 2012 at 11:06 pm
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Not surprising the State's Attorney undervalued the artwork in question, but the main point is the felony charge leveled against the person accused of taking it. Mark Nepperman, the U of I grad in 2009, did the same exact offense and was not charged with such a stiff charge. Edgar Heap of Birds' signs were not yard signs. They were heavily constructed metal with hot press lettering, and the appraisal came not as a direct result of what the materials cost, but the ingenuity and orginality of the idea itself, along with the current going-rate of the particular artist's market value. Heap of Birds is nationally recognized, so whatever he does is more expensive. If a Billy Morrow Jackson painting is damaged, it's not valued at $629.00 because Jackson spent that much on wood, canvas, and tubes of oil paints. It might be valued at $629.00 if it was a U of I student who damaged the painting since the State's Attorney wouldn't want the U of I student to "get into trouble."

Sancho Panza wrote on June 19, 2012 at 8:06 am

One man's yard sign is another man's $10,000 piece of art.  Little ingenuity is required to repeat the hot press lettering on sheet metal, so its replacement cost is low. 

Of course a Billy Morrow Jackson painting is worth far more!  It requires an artist with skill, ingenuity, and time to create a new painting.  Even if Mr. Jackson was still with us, he could not completely replicate the work.

 

bluegrass wrote on June 19, 2012 at 11:06 am

I'm confused about what you're upset about....


Are you upset that the State's Attorney doesn't value art in the manner you would prefer?


Or are you upset that Nepperman didn't get charged with a felony that would "haunt him the rest of his life?"


Or are you upset that the other guy did get charged with a felony?


 

Local Yocal wrote on June 19, 2012 at 1:06 pm
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"Upset" is a bit strong, since it's been said that a blogger is: "Someone who offers opinions/observations about things that don't directly affect them."

The issue is whether there exists double standards in the charging of an offense with regards to a theft of art.

1) Art made by a member of a "minor" population- that being a Native American- is valued less and by a totally different criteria than art made by a member of the "major" population: caucasions. The price of the work stolen determines the level of offense and possible punishments.

2) Was the artwork's price considered by the State's Attorney determined by the race and class of the defendant? The State's Attorney completely ignored the victim Edgar Heap of Birds' own value to his work, and a Canadian art appraisal firm's assessment of the "Beyond the Chief" display at $10,000.00. Was that because the defendant in that case was a U of I graduate?

Whether a U of I graduate should be convicted of a felony and forever have that felony on his record while filling out employment applications; or whether drug addicts, if that is the case here, should be stomped to economic oblivion and jailed is up for discussion.

The fact remains, we have here two identical crimes: the theft of an expensive piece of art- with very disparate prosecutions. Why?

Is it the race of the artists? Is it the class of the defendants? Is it the political incorrectness the "Beyond the Chief" display represents? [Hail Chief Illiniwek!] Why a misdemeanor in one case, and a felony in another? What created this inequality in the law? Why is victim Bob Esmer being avenged more than vicitm Edgar Heap of Birds? Don't they both deserve equal protection under the law? 

ronaldo wrote on June 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Explain to us all please, once and for all, how stealing a yard sign with a copy of an original work of art printed on it at a print shop is remotely similar to stealing an original public art sculpture.  And please don't make another incorrect assumption and therefore, a flawed premise, and then proceed with your argument based on that incorrect assumption.

Ready, go.....

Local Yocal wrote on June 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm
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...but first prove to us that Edgar Heap of Birds' art was but a yard sign....we want to make sure we start off on the right premise and don't make any false assumptions, you know.

rsp wrote on June 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Time out. What condition were Edgar Heap of Birds' signs in when they were returned? I can't remember and couldn't find any info. All I could find was that he was drunk and they were returned. Nothing about the condition. The sculpture was intentionally cut apart and taken to a scrap yard. That may have made the difference in charging. You know, the intent of the parties involved.

Local Yocal wrote on June 19, 2012 at 9:06 pm
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The signs were returned only after Mark Nepermann's still photograph from the video was published. Up to that point, Nepermann's intent was to permanently deprive the owner of the property. The theft of Heap of Birds' signs was publicized for weeks before Nepermann gave in after realizing he ran but was unable to hide. Both crimes should have been charged the same as felonies. Nepermann's return of the property and his confession that he did it are factors in mitigation come sentencing time.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Yeah, the Mona Lisa was just some paint on a board. Probably fifty dollars in materials altogether.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 19, 2012 at 2:06 pm

"If the State's Attorney valued it at $18,000, then it would have been a Class 2 felony."

Then it *was* a Class 2 felony and should have been prosecuted as such, rather than treating the red-handed thief as if he were -- oh, on the Illini football team or something.

Local Yocal wrote on June 20, 2012 at 2:06 am
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Heap of Birds' work is expensive art, and here's why in one opinion:

The ingenuity and skill of the artist clearly exposed the reasons why the Chief mascot had to go. Despite the decades upon decades upon decades of denial that went on during the discourse about the mascot, Heap of Birds' proved the U of I was in fact a hostile environment toward native peoples, their speech and culture were not valued, and the government does in fact still consider native people to be second-class citizens. The brilliant choices to mimic the white man's classic method for drawing lines on the land to demark "This is mine-not yours-so get out": the ugly highway sign, was expert in provoking the hostility that Illini Nation always tried to hide, even the hypocrisy of claiming the Chief represented a first amendment right to free expression. Illini Nation could dish it out, but never could they take it. The affront that the beloved Chief Illiniwek would be spelled backwards on the signs to suggest the U of I faculty and students still hold a "backwards" perception of Indians was more than the pedestrians beholding the signs could tolerate. The signs were constantly vandalized (which is why there was a running video camera posted next door) until the gentle reminders that the land we walk on were once the home of other nations, were finally stolen by the hapless and drunk, Mark Nepermann. I agree with Dr. McColley that it is doubtful Nepermann had a gigantic hate crime in between his ears when he chose to steal the signs, but neither did Nepermann, in his random drunkeness, choose to steal stop signs, garage sale signs, street signs that also crossed his path. He should have been charged and convicted of a felony because what he stole was worth a lot of money, he had no intention of giving it back until he realized he was caught, and as Heavy D Difanis tells the brown people when he sentences them to the penitentiary, "There has to be a level of deterrence to be considered when dealing with the seriousness of this crime." Especially when both municipalities are spending a significant amount of tax dollars beautifying the place. First-time convict Nepermann didn't deserve the hell of a prison sentence, but he sure deserved to mop floors in the county jail and carry his felony conviction around for awhile. Nepermann's drunkeness, and unawares that the rock he picked up was actually a diamond, would have qualified him for expungment later.

Or,... we could have equality under the law as Rietz sees it, and whatever Markos Steel paid for the scrap metal that was "Sky Catcher III" is the actual value of the sculpture and McNeal should be charged with a misdemeanor as Nepermann was.  

rsp wrote on June 20, 2012 at 6:06 am

One it was his first offence, the other it's his 4th. And it should be Thomas McNeal not Michael. But McNeal went with intent and planning, took the artwork knowing what it was and cut it up. Then he sold it for scrap. Nepermann while intoxicated stole signs that were in his line of sight. Unplanned. I assume he hid them out of embarrassment but we don't know. Street signs, stop signs, etc. aren't in your line of sight when you're walking and I doubt if there were any garage sale signs in the immediate area. When the stories first were published about the signs being vandalized I was surprised by the fact that they were art. I had never seen them and had never heard of the artist. Assuming an intent that isn't there isn't there is unfair to everyone.

Local Yocal wrote on June 20, 2012 at 7:06 am
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rsp, I say your analysis is far more thoughtful than what goes on most days of the week at the courthouse. Nepermann had a lot of mitigating factors going for his case. But it's suspicious that the return of the signs only comes AFTER the publishing of his photograph; and the hub bub over the Heap of Birds' artwork. 

I doubt McNeal knew the sculpture he was taking (so much for his presumption of innocence) was worth $18,000. If Nepermann gets a pass for not knowing what he was taking was valuable art, why doesn't McNeal get a free pass for not knowing what he took was very expensive? Why doesn't the State's Attorney value "Sky Catcher III", the price of what Marko Steel paid for the metal? I'm sure there is a receipt that will be used in court against McNeal....

rsp wrote on June 20, 2012 at 3:06 pm

It's one thing to do something garden variety embarrassing while intoxicated. It's another to do something that is so out of character that it hits you in a place where you can't even acknowledge it happened to yourself. If you can't do that how do you correct it?

With "Sky Catcher III", it's been published what it's worth plus they have the contract from when it came here. Both of those list the $18,000 value I would assume. He doesn't have to know it's value, it's his intent in taking it. One an impulse and the other "let's get some tools and rip this thing apart".

Local Yocal wrote on June 20, 2012 at 6:06 pm
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Your intoxication defense is far more generous than the State of Illinois usually offers. Rarely if ever do defendants get excused for alcohol intoxication, despite the national data that suggests 50% of crimes are committed while the perpetrator is drunk. Was there a drunken impulse to sit on the signs for weeks while police and citizens searched for the signs?

In the recent crime here, the taking of a public sculpture one block away from the police station, and selling the metal another block away within a short period of time is criminal planning that puts ronaldo's crack-related theory into play. Would you give the offender a drug-addiction defense? 

Tom Napier wrote on June 20, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Because I don’t know Local Yocal personally, I will assume a masculine reference, and will abbreviate the name to Local for short.  I apologize if this offends anyone.

Local spends a lot of time posting comments to the News Gazette.  While I find little of what he writes makes much sense, I will defend his right to write them.  That said, these postings stress my tolerance.

First, the red mist of activism has blinded Local to the duplicity and hypocrisy of his argument.  The anti-Chief militants are equally guilty of defacing property.  See (http://will.illinois.edu/chief-illiniwek-understanding-the-issues/) . 

Honor the Chief billboard, vandalized by anti-chief activitists

 

Were these vandals ever caught?  Were they ever sought by police?  Did they ever turn themselves in?  Is the reason they’re not fessing up because they weren’t caught on video?  Would they confess if they were?  Would Local vilify them the same way he vilifies Mr. Nepermann?  I don’t know much about billboard advertising costs, but I’ll bet it’s not real cheap.  What was the expense of restoring the original … and paid for … artwork?  At what risk of injury or death did it place workers, working at elevation, when restoring the billboard?  Apparently expenditure by someone who is not in Local's favor is worth less than expenditure by someone who is.  Local obviously has a double standard for crime; one for  “bad” crime (vandalizing pro-Chief messages) and one for “good” crime (vandalizing anti-Chief messages).  I’m curious to hear his position(s) on gun violence, sexual assault, home invasion and robbery, drug abuse and other social dysfunctions.  To be consistent, there would be “good” versions and “bad” versions of each. 

Second,Local's rant is of a tone that is totally and unequivocally offensive.  It reeks of a quest for vengeance.  It’s hateful.  It contributes nothing useful to either side of the Chief Illiniwek debate.  On the other hand, his rhetoric does illustrate to people capable of exercising objective and critical thought just how far out of whack this extremism really is.  Keep it up, Local, and I just may vote Republican this November.

Third, Local's tirade is unrelated to the subject at hand, which unfortunately does not deter anti-Chief militants.  The issue is the vulnerability of public art to misuse and theft.  The issue is not that “hapless and drunk Nepermann” or “convict Nepermann” (as Local calls him) got off too lightly.  The issue is not the race of the vandal or the artist.  Local seems to be the only one attempting to inflame the community by making these arguments.   I’m surprised he didn’t accuse Mr. Nepermann of genocide.

Finally, I’ve never taken issue with Mr. Heap of Birds’ signs.  I wouldn’t call them art by the conventional definition, but who am I to say.  And, who are YOU (a rhetorical “you”) to say either?   Certainly Local  is no more or less qualified to judge.  Mr. Heap of Birds’ work had an intellectual content, but did not reveal the skill-of-hand, tactile involvement or passion one normally perceives with the visual arts.    Yes, they were creative, to a degree.  Yes, they were clever, to a degree.    But I wouldn’t go any further than that.  The “works” themselves were really nothing more than dye cut reflective letters bonded to a reflective background bonded to a metal plate.  I would give more artistic credibility to the old time sign painters whose handiwork advertised King Biscuit Flour or Chesterfield Cigarettes on old barns than I would to someone painting “See Rock City.”  I can compose any number of pithy signs and bumper stickers myself.  Even if I could sucker someone out of a chunk of change for them, that does not make me an artist.  My son bought me a license plate frame onto which is bonded a plastic tag with “Have a Grateful Day” inscribed.  I think he paid about twelve bucks for it. 

I’m sure Local will have a long and tortured rebuttal to this post.  He’s welcome to it.  I have better things to do.  So … Have a Grateful Day. 

 

 

 

 

ronaldo wrote on June 20, 2012 at 11:06 pm

Mr. Napier, that was well thought out, carefully executed, and down right genious in content.  You were thorough in your analysis and you forewent the temptation to hit the save button prematurely, something I catch myself doing too often.

With my observations to date I would have been inclined to add something along the lines of, "Fourth, the arguments presented lack any semblance of common logic.....", but you've already laid out enough fodder to chew on for awhile.

Mark Taylor wrote on June 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

I know; I sure do hate them long and tortured posts. Ain't worth a dang injun head nickel. Cause them that vandalized the billboard weren't put away for twenty years, we can't charge anyone who damaged Indian anti-Chief 'art.' Flawless logic, as usual, Tom.

BRING BACK THE CHIEF!!!!

Local Yocal wrote on June 21, 2012 at 9:06 am
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"The anti-Chief militants are equally guilty of defacing property.  See (http://will.illinois.edu/chief-illiniwek-understanding-the-issues/) . 

Were these vandals ever caught?  Were they ever sought by police?  Did they ever turn themselves in?  Is the reason they’re not fessing up because they weren’t caught on video?  Would they confess if they were?  Would Local vilify them the same way he vilifies Mr. Nepermann?" 

"Vilify?" No, I suggested Nepermann be held to the same standard as McNeil. I suggested victim Heap of Birds' work be respected with the same respect like victim Emser's work. I was unaware of the billboard incident, and I would expect AND FAVOR a full prosecution to fall on whoever painted on the billboard.

Those that excuse Nepermann's behavior because he was drunk, and he later expressed public remorse, should also extend a similar possibility to McNeil. It remains very suspicious to me that Nepermann didn't intend to permanently deprive Heap of Birds of his property because Nepermann didn't wake up the next day, and say, "Darn! Where did these signs come from? I better return these right away!" Nepermann's return of the property, his confession and contrition came only after his photograph while caught in the act was published all over town. Rietz had ample evidence that Heap of Birds' artwork was worth $10,000, way more than the fabrication company's retail price; and taken all together, Nepermann should have been convicted of a felony. Even so, Nepermann should not have been sent to the penitentiary and his felony conviction was a good candidate for eventual expungement. In short, I am comparing the two cases to suggest there is a lack of equal protection under the law, and equal application of the law. I have yet to see good reasons why the Nepermann and McNeil cases should not have been handled the same way.

"What was the expense of restoring the original … and paid for … artwork?  At what risk of injury or death did it place workers, working at elevation, when restoring the billboard?  Apparently expenditure by someone who is not in Local's favor is worth less than expenditure by someone who is. 
Local obviously has a double standard for crime; one for  “bad” crime (vandalizing pro-Chief messages) and one for “good” crime (vandalizing anti-Chief messages). The issue is not that “hapless and drunk Nepermann” or “convict Nepermann” (as Local calls him) got off too lightly.  The issue is not the race of the vandal or the artist.  Local seems to be the only one attempting to inflame the community by making these arguments."

Your argument is exactly what I am accusing the State's Attorney of with the disparate prosecutions of the exact same offense. Her too-often double standards toward events inflames the community, and creates the suspicions that prosecutions are handled according to race and class of the defendant.

What we should all expect is when the Anti-Chief activists occupy the Swandlund Building, the activists are to be arrested and prosecuted like anyone else would be. U of I police should not, as they did, stand around "making sure everyone is safe," nor should the activists have been granted an audience with Chancellor Cantor for "negotiations." Unless, of course, that's the policy for everyone who takes over a campus building.

When Luther Head, basketball star, is an accomplice to a home invasion and residential burglary of $3000 worth of electronic equipment, Luther Head should be arrested and face some felonies, like anyone else would be. That's what the current State's Attorney campaigned on against her predecessor.

When a middle linebacker on the U of I team chases down a citizen and punches out the citizen's front teeth, the linebacker goes to jail and is sentenced to the county jail to rethink that play, like anyone else would be.

The issue I'm raising is equal protection under the law through equal application of the law. Too often the current State's Attorney prefers to change the facts of an event to favor or disfavor who she thinks is a "good person" or a "bad person." She should stick to the real facts and follow the law. It's at sentencing when the defendant's rehabilitative potential is to be evaluated by an impartial Circuit Judge (if we have any of those around here.)    

  "... Local's tirade is unrelated to the subject at hand, which unfortunately does not deter anti-Chief militants. The issue is the vulnerability of public art to misuse and theft."

Agreed that the Chief Illiniwek debate is unrelated to the subject at hand and only came up when asked to explain how Heap of Birds' signs were expensive art. 

"...Local's rant is of a tone that is totally and unequivocally offensive.  It reeks of a quest for vengeance.  It’s hateful.  It contributes nothing useful to either side of the Chief Illiniwek debate." If you are referring to my analysis of the "Beyond the Chief" signs- I was characterizing their affect on the pedestrians. You have rightly pointed out that both sides to the debate violated the other's right to purchase 1st Amendment public space, and therefore, I would say my comments were incomplete. If you are referring to how I think Nepermann should have been prosecuted, I think I've explained and explained that I seek fairness and equality for all victims and defendants. Seeking consistency, equality, and truth does not negate mercy.

"...I’ve never taken issue with Mr. Heap of Birds’ signs.  I wouldn’t call them art by the conventional definition,...  Mr. Heap of Birds’ work had an intellectual content, but did not reveal the skill-of-hand, tactile involvement or passion one normally perceives with the visual arts. Yes, they were creative, to a degree.  Yes, they were clever, to a degree. But I wouldn’t go any further than that.  The “works” themselves were really nothing more than dye cut reflective letters bonded to a reflective background bonded to a metal plate.  I would give more artistic credibility to the old time sign painters whose handiwork advertised King Biscuit Flour or Chesterfield Cigarettes on old barns than I would to someone painting “See Rock City.”
 

I agree the hand-painting sign guys are the bomb. I also like Model-T Fords, bicycles, good penmanship, and the Bible's explanation on how the universe was created in 7 days. But we've come a long way. It's no one's fault that our art education is stuck in 1875. I would google the names, Jennifer Holzer and Jeff Koons to get an idea how the contemporary art market values ideas far more than whether the artist hand-made the final work.
 

Molly1 wrote on June 21, 2012 at 11:06 am

I think that the biggest thing that people are not taking into consideration here is that the Courts are valuing property, much like an Insurance Company.  They are making criminal charges based on the replacement value of the object in question.


In the case of the metal sculpture, it would have to be completely redone from scratch, by the original artist, and even then it would not be the original artwork.  It could be a very similar reproduction perhaps, but little inconsistencies would be present.


In the case of the signs, the 'art' is in the design.  It could easily be recreated by an unskilled laborer at a fraction of the cost, and it would be a very similar reproduction to the first one without losing much value at being a reproduction.


I mean, if someone destroyed a photograph of the Mona Lisa, I an unskilled amateur photographer could probably create a resonable reproduction of the photograph.  But, I having absolutely no artistic talent could never come close to recreating the oil and canvas original, if someone destroyed it.  And even if by some miracle I could, it would not be the historical artwork created by da Vinci.


Had the situation been reversed, and the Native American artist had hand created a metal, painted,or clay artwork, I'm sure it would have been valued at a high price by the courts because it would take the original artist to recreate the original artwork.


For instance, if this piece had been damaged, or completely destroyed, then the replacement value of it would be high, since it would require the Native American artist to physically, completely recreate their work.  http://activerain.com/blogsview/643484/owensboro-kentucky-s-love-song-sculpture


I think that too many people seek to find conspiracy around themselves, when in actuallity there is a logical explanation behind the scenes that can be found with a little investigation.

Local Yocal wrote on June 21, 2012 at 3:06 pm
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@ Molly1,

Excellent contribution and well said. I appreciate the logical, common sense approach with "little investigation."

I respectfully disagree with your analysis, however, because your assumptions: "They [the State's Attorney's office] are making criminal charges based on the replacement value of the object in question;" and "...Had the situation been reversed, and the Native American artist had hand created a metal, painted,or clay artwork, I'm sure it would have been valued at a high price by the courts because it would take the original artist to recreate the original artwork," do not seem to conform to state law, something the State's Attorney is bound to uphold.

I understand everyone's confusion regarding the Heap of Birds piece. Traffic signs just don't fit our concept of "art" as we know painting and sculpture to be. Nonetheless, handcrafted is no longer the criteria for whether an object is valuable in the art market. It's about idea. Like it or not, believe it or not, graphic works Heap of Birds orders to be made by sign manufacturers sell for a ton of money on the art market. I lay no claim to understanding the art market either, but what we do know is:

...if I steal from Tom Napier's possession his authentic autograph signed by Babe Ruth, Julie Rietz doesn't get to say, "Because Babe Ruth used a 2-cent ball point pen to sign a 5-cent baseball program from 1933, I declare the stolen property's value at 7 cents, and therefore I am criminally charging Local Yocal with a Class C misdemeanor; [or worse:] I'm not bothering to prosecute for theft of a 7-cent item." She cannot decide what the realities of economic markets are; rather, she must follow the law.

So what is the law? According to 815 ILCS 320/1-7 (c), a "work of fine art" is defined as "...a work of graphic art including, but not limited to...offset printing." According to 815 ILCS 320/2-5, a work of fine art's value is determined by an agreement between the artist and art dealer, or in the absence thereof, "the fair market value" of the artwork.

But most important of all, 720 ILCS 5/15-9 (a) defines the value of stolen property as whatever the fair market value happens to be.

I agree with everyone that Esmer's and Heap of Birds' artwork seem wildly overpriced, but that is how art is played in the Big City. Rietz honors the fair market value for Esmer's work, but not Heap of Birds',..... why? She had the burden of proof to show a jury that the innocuous traffic sign was worth $10,000 at Nepermann's trial, and she had the proof- why didn't she charge Nepermann accordingly? Many who have lived in this community for some time, and those who saw the cover story in the B-Section of Sunday's, June 17th N-G, are beginning to suspect that "criminals" who are U of I students get lenient/favorable treatment that locals don't-....i.e. blatant inequality under the law based on socio-economic class.

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 21, 2012 at 4:06 pm

Have the Native Americans in the community voiced their disapproval?  Are the Kickapoo, Miami, or Wea tribes upset about it?  I am not referring to the Wantabee tribe.  The art, not the artist, is what is valued based on original selling price; and the provenance of the piece.  Insurance on the piece would be an indicator also.  

rsp wrote on June 22, 2012 at 2:06 am

Picture the DA standing before the jury box trying to explain to a jury that the sign was worth $10,000 because it had his idea and then the defense has their turn with the receipt from when it was made giving a drastically lower price. Who do you think the jury is going to side with? Considering most of the jurors haven't looked at art except what their kids bring home from school. And her responsibilities include not wastiing the taxpayers money on cases they are unlikely to win, so sometimes compromises are reached. But you are trying to compare apples to oranges. These cases are not alike. They are not going to help make your point of unfair treatment, just the opposite. Sometimes leniency is given for first offences, which is what happened with both of these individuals.

spangwurfelt wrote on June 22, 2012 at 8:06 am

Picture the DA saying, simply, "It is a fundamental principle of our economic system that the cash value of something is determined by what the market will bear. That is Capitalism 101. We know, from Heap of Birds' testimony regarding the sales of similar works, and from the experts who have assessed the value of this work to the art market, that the market could bear much, much more than the mere cost of materials of this installation. There is simply no basis for arbitrarily and ludicrously undervaluing the work so thoroughly, for no other reason than that we are not very familiar with the art market, and therefore we won't, even if the accused is a UI grad."

I think you would have to look pretty hard to find a jury that doesn't understand that "what's it worth?" always includes "what's it worth to *whom*?" And they would have no trouble figuring out that the "whom" in this case is "people who buy art" - that is, the art market.

If the DA wants to get the jury to go light, the way to do that is to tell the jury, "We'd like you to go light," not "We're going to flat-out lie to you about what the art was worth."

Local Yocal's right on this one, and he's right to point out the connection.

rsp wrote on June 22, 2012 at 3:06 pm

What it's worth to whom is the point. Didn't Egdar Heap of Birds still own the signs? If they had been sold or donated they would have a provenance to establish their history and value. If they was never sold they just has theoretical value. The only record of them having been sold was when they were made. So no, Local is wrong. It's the same stance that's taken in other court cases under the same situation. It's apples and oranges. Doesn't mean it was fair to Egdar Heap of Birds and doesn't mean he couldn't have sued to recovered damages on his own. He chose not to. 

Local Yocal wrote on June 22, 2012 at 4:06 pm
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@rsp: I strongly urge you to type in "Edgar Heap of Birds" in the search engine to the right here, and read up on the articles concerning the Nepermann case and the value of the signs by Heap of Birds. Your understanding of the facts, art, and the law in this matter is below your usual good intelligence.

We cannot conflate and confuse a lenient sentence (which may have been appropriate for Nepermann) with the accurate charge for the crime in question. Nepermann was videotaped stealing property worth over $10,000- and that's a felony. He did not return the property as it turns out, intended to keep it, and was only busted on a Crimestoppers tip. It's questionable if Nepermann was the one who returned the signs. The ridiculous charge and crazy nice sentence was an insult to the victims to his theft. He should have been convicted of a felony, like McNiel might be or anyone else would be. Nepermann qualified for probation and expungement of his felony conviction later.

Suffice to say, you can 'bess believe Julie Rietz won't be waving any Marcos Steel scrap metal receipts at artist Bob Esmer and the Champaign Public Art League to say the "Sky Catcher III" sculpture is worth a few hundred bucks.

The job of the State's Attorney is to present the truth based on the evidence and in conformity to the law. If a jury nullifies that truth (the monetary worth of the art); that is not the fault of the State's Attorney. Juries are not experts in DNA, firearm ballistics, automobile collisions, medical injuries, ect. It is the job of the state's attorney to harness the necessary resources, evidence and experts to explain it to the jury if a prosecution is to go forward. Laziness, ignorance, or bias towards the defendant does not absolve the State's Attorney from representing the facts of a case and charging accordingly. How is it a News-Gazette reporter can find the documentation and witnesses to the monetary worth of Heap of Birds' artwork and a state's attorney, with subpoena power, can not?

Rietz is bound to uphold the law and the Constitution to equal protection of the law for all citizens. Changing the facts of a case to skirt the law, disrespect a victim's property, so as to favor a defendant is Piland-esque. The McNeal case here proves how egregious the Nepermann prosecution was, and it's these prosecutorial habits that, in Tom Napier's words about somebody else, "inflames the community." 

rsp wrote on June 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Be careful what you wish for.

He did not return the property as it turns out, intended to keep it, and was only busted on a Crimestoppers tip. 

"On Monday night, two of the signs that had been stolen from the 1200 block of West Nevada Street in Urbana on Saturday were recovered in a parking lot on South Lincoln Avenue near the Arboretum. UI police found them after receiving tips to Crimestoppers. Police had videotape of a person passing by the signs that they believed to be the thief. Brown confirmed that Nepermann was the man in the tape, but it was not clear if he was the person who returned the signs Monday."

"Two different professional appraisers valued 12 similar Heap of Bird "Native Hosts" signs in British Columbia at $120,000, or $10,000 each."

Not the same signs. So maybe they weren't insured or appraised before they were displayed. 

 

"State's Attorney Julia Rietz said the appraisal will not affect her decision related to the charge against Nepermann, a recent UI graduate. "It's not proof to me of the value of these signs," she said of the ones in Urbana.

She instead based her decision on an invoice, given her by the UI police, from the American Logo and Sign Inc. in Moore, Okla., that the signs for the Urbana public art exhibit were sold to Heap of Birds for $88.65 each. The artist had the signs manufactured at the company."

The McNeal case? It's on loan with monetary consideration. I can guarantee it's insured with an appraisal. 

 

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 22, 2012 at 8:06 pm

Well, there is a fortune to be found in Urbana.  Wonder if Urbana has already had it appraised?  The city could increase the city's cash reserve by doubling the appraisal value, insuring it, stealing it, selling it for scrap, settling the insurance claim, buying replacement sculpture, and doing it all over again.  Does the U. of I. still teach sculpture?

rsp wrote on June 22, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I bet there's a lot of art on display that isn't insured. There have been major works stolen that caused it to be revealed that the museum didn't have any coverage. Considering that the signs were vandalized several times prior to the theft If they had been it probably would have been cancelled. 

Local Yocal wrote on June 22, 2012 at 10:06 pm
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Surely rsp, you are not going to maintain the Heap of Birds signs are worth 86 bucks? If an appraiser would have taken the stand against Nepermann, would they have testified: "86 bucks for those signs on Nevada Street?"

rsp wrote on June 23, 2012 at 2:06 am

My point is those signs were never appraised before they were damaged so they could not be valued. It had nothing to do with who the artist was or who commited the crime. That is case law. You can't value them at what they "might" have been worth. That number is based on if they had been sold. What someone "may" have paid for them. Some fictional person. The key word being fictional. Who is that person? Until they were sold it's just an asking price. It's negotiable. Unfortunately, the only thing giving a "legal" price to these signs was the receipt from the manufacturer. A good lesson for all artists to get insurance and appraisals for all of their works. If they don't value it nobody else can.

Local Yocal wrote on June 23, 2012 at 1:06 am
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Really, rsp, set aside the "I got Yocal" stuff and be honest to admit Heap of Birds' work is seen in the art market as worth way more than $300 dollars.

rsp wrote on June 23, 2012 at 2:06 am

When will you agree that the DA handled it the best way she could given the circumstances?

dane wrote on June 23, 2012 at 9:06 am

How about coming up with an actual sale of one of these signs and showing what it sold for.

rsp wrote on June 23, 2012 at 10:06 am

Apparently they were sold at a "steep discount" to the UIUC.

rsp wrote on June 23, 2012 at 11:06 pm

No reply, huh? I went through all of my comments on this and I never said what I thought the art was worth. Never implied. My spelling was off but my keyboard was broke. But you think I was dishonest, huh?