How I Stole a Painting
The story of one of the most radical performances in art history told by German artist Ulay, who in 1976 decided to steal Hitler’s favorite painting from Berlin’s national museum and hang it in the home of a Turkish immigrant family.
“This particular painting you could say was a German identity icon.” In 1976 Ulay decided to steal the painting ‘Der arme Poet’ (The Poor Poet) (1839) by Carl Spitzweg, which was said to be Hitler’s favorite painting. By stealing the painting from the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) in Berlin, Ulay broke away from what he had done previously, aiming “to give a strong signal about what I was about as an artist at the time.”
“All I wanted to do was get this painting, steal it, run out of the museum with my hands and feet, no technique or assistance for doing this.” After he succeeded in getting the painting out of the museum, Ulay drove – with the museum guards at his heels – to Kreuzberg, which was known as a ghetto for immigrants. Here, Ulay ran through the snow with the painting under his arm, to a Turkish family, who had agreed to let him shoot a documentary film in their home – however unaware that it involved a stolen painting. Before entering the family’s home, the artist called the police from a phone booth and asked for the director of the museum to pick up the painting. He then hung up the painting in the home of the family “for the reason to bring this whole issue of Turkish discriminated foreign workers into the discussion. To bring into discussion the institute’s marginalization of art. To bring a discussion about the correspondence between art institutes from the academy to museums to whatever.”
Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943) is a German artist, now based in Amsterdam, Holland, and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Ulay received international recognition for his work as a photographer, mainly in Polaroid, from the late 1960s, and later as a performance artist, including his collaborative performances with Marina Abramović from 1976 to 1988. His work has continuously dealt with politics, identity and gender. In 2016 Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, held the first major retrospective show of his work ‘Ulay Life-Sized’. In recent years Ulay’s work has also been on show at the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and GNYP Gallery in Berlin. Ulay’s work, as well as his collaborative work with Marina Abramović, is featured in many collections of major art institutions around the world such as Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Tate Modern in London and Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Ulay was interviewed by Christian Lund in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in July 2017.
In the video, clips are shown from the performance ‘There’s a Criminal Touch to Art’ (1976) by Ulay, showing Ulay’s theft of Carl Spitzweg’s painting ‘Der arme Poet’ from the Neue Nationalgalerie and the consequent reception by the press. Marina Abramović photographically documented the entire action, while Werner Herzog’s former cameraman Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein recorded the action from a vehicle following Ulay’s van.
Cameras: Primoz Korosec
Edited by: Roxanne Bageshirin Lærkesen
Produced by: Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2017
Supported by Nordea-fonden