An artist is on the hunt for the vandals who stole his otherworldly sculpture of a child hovering over Prospect Park's lake on Sunday.
Artist Nicholas Papadakis is looking for information about who swiped his 3-foot sculpture from its watery perch in front of the Prospect Park Boathouse. Papadakis installed the eye-catching figure, which appears to walk on water, in the park's Lullwater on Friday, Sept. 16 as part of Art Slope, a free arts festival taking place across Park Slope through Sept. 25.
The sculpture was discovered missing Sunday morning, Park Slope Stoop first reported, and returned to Papadakis several hours later in good condition after it was found in the woods.
While some may dismiss the incident as a harmless prank, Papadakis said the theft will cost him substantial sums of money, time, and most importantly, exposure.
"I will not let this rest because it's really insulting and damaging to my income and my career," Papadakis told DNAinfo New York. "This is business. It's not there for whatever entertainment value a visitor wishes to take from it."
A Parks Department employee witnessed the theft, according to Papadakis, and told him that the thieves appeared to be young male guests at a wedding reception at the Boathouse, a popular wedding venue. A Park Department spokeswoman said officials do not believe the theft was related to the wedding party.
"Parks is extremely disappointed that this special piece of public artwork was stolen, but we are happy to report is has been returned to the artist," spokeswoman Maeri Ferguson said. "We continue to actively work with NYPD to investigate."
Ben Keller, a guest at the wedding, contacted DNAinfo on Tuesday after reading about the stolen sculpture. He didn't witness the actual theft, but said he and other guests saw a teen boy attempting to haul the statue out of the water over the course of several hours Saturday night. The boy was "skinny" and about 5 feet 4 inches, Keller said, and was wearing only shorts with no shirt.
The boy made several attempts to remove the statue as his friends egged him on from a nearby bridge, Keller said. "They were complete brats," Keller said. "They thought it was hilarious. I assume they live nearby because they kept coming back."
At one point the boy left and then waded back out with a rope or string and used it to yank the statue to one side, Keller said. "At that point we realized they were vandalizing it, so we yelled at them to get away," Keller said.
When the wedding ended at midnight, the sculpture was askew in the water, Keller said. The art piece wasn't bolted in place because the Lullwater is an artificial lake lined with rubber, Papadakis told DNAinfo on Monday. He used dead weights to anchor the sculpture in place; the entire installation weighed about 250 pounds, he said.
Papadakis found out the sculpture was missing when a friend of his went to check out the artwork early Sunday morning. He raced to the park and found only the sculpture's base on the Lullwater's shore. Papadakis didn't touch it because he thought it might have fingerprints on it that investigators could use to find the thieves.
He called 911 and police officers responded to the scene and then left, telling him a sergeant was on the way to discuss the crime. While Papadakis was waiting, two teenage boys walked up with the sculpture in hand, saying they had just found it in the woods.
Papadakis said Monday afternoon that he's not sure whether he'll install the sculpture elsewhere before the end of Art Slope. Installing the piece took nearly a day of labor, and getting permission to put it inside the park was a lengthy process involving multiple city agencies, he said.
The sculpture was supposed to be on display over two weekends and a full week in the park. The exhibit would have given the public a chance to see his work, but more importantly, private collectors and gallerists would have seen the piece, which could have led to gallery shows and other money-making opportunities down the road, Papadakis said.
"This was a major investment and income was expected to be generated from it, as well as future exhibition opportunities," Papadakis said.
Papadakis, a professional artist for nearly 30 years, estimated the sale value of the work at roughly $12,000 to $15,000, based on the sale price of a piece that took a similar amount of time and effort to produce. Papadakis spent months designing the stolen sculpture, which was then built in a sculpture studio in Germany and shipped to the United States.
While some artists, such as Papadakis' friend street artist Jay Shells, expect and encourage people to steal their work, Papadakis isn't one of them, he said.
"I don't pull publicity stunts," Papadakis said. "I'm sort of a nose to the grindstone artist. I’d prefer to use my time to make another piece of art.
"I just want justice to be served."