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Ugliest Painting in the World, Stolen From SF Gallery

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*Warning: This story contains world-class bad taste, several cases of alcohol abuse, 2 cases of theft, 1 case of blackmail, and several serious breaches of personal trust.   

On June 3rd, at approximately 12:00am, one of the world’s finest examples of terrible art was brazenly stolen from 518 Gallery in the mission, in front of dozens of witnesses, including the paintings buyer and the party’s producers.  The event was part of this year’s San Francisco DocFest, a documentary film festival dedicated to weird and wonderful aspects of real life to the big screen.

Gallery 518 on Valencia St.

The Bad Art Gallery has the finest collection of artwork fished out of dumpsters, freshmen dorm rooms, and presumably insane asylums.   Yes, the Bad Art Gallery sells art fit for extreme cynics, comedians, and perhaps blind people.  The walls are covered with the world’s worst paintings, exhibiting only the most regrettable subject matters, and realized with only the most untrained eyes and tortured technique.  So naturally, I made sure Broke-Ass Stuart was not only the media sponsor of the gallery opening, but the c0-host of the opening.  But the event took a surprising and dumbfounding turn when a pack of thieves stole the auction’s prized painting off the wall in front of everyone, and ran off with arguably the worst painting in the world.

To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with, here are few examples of bad art shown by the Bad Art Gallery:

“Serena in Red” by Len Johnston.   Materials: oil on crushed velvet and dreams BROKEN. Materials: small nylon brush, Crayola SuperPaintz 10-pack “Dessert’ed” by Matilde Hand By Quintin Rodriguez titled “Maria”.  Materials Watercolor and pencil on paper 2006

The Bad Art Gallery that night was flush with wornderfully disturbing works of art.  But the bell of the ball, the pièce de résistance, was a remarkable painting that we dubbed, ‘The Foot Pickers’.

The most coveted painting of the evening, ‘The Foot Pickers’

There were many artistic trainwrecks that evening but none was more attention-grabbing than the curious case of the ‘Foot Pickers’.  Hundreds of gallery visitors could not take their eyes off of it.  Presumably a nod to Dutch painter Adriaen Brouwer, this seventeenth-century recreation of a man picking another man’s foot, was unparalleled in its ability to both disgust and confuse observers.  You may have noticed that unlike other Dutch Masters, this artist managed to avoid capturing the varying degrees of light or even the likeness of his subjects, instead he focused on a curious, foot picking incident, involving three figures apparently covered their faces with the same bleach white medicine the used on the foot.

Now I need to confess that it was I who stole that horrific painting, but I’d like to explain why I did so and how blackmail, larceny and public shaming played a part in its recovery.

That Saturday started off perfectly normal.  I met Stuart and some friends at YBCA for their annual Public Square, where we met some great local artists and shook hands with the First Female President of the United States Margaret McCarthy. Then we visited ‘The HotSpot’ on Market St. for their heralded beer, shot, and lottery scratcher deal for just $7.  Then we went to the Clusterfest Comedy Festival and had Margarita with Towlie from South Park.  I mention all of this in our defense, I’m saying we had a few drinks that day.

The Hotspot, SF’s great dive on that stretch of Market St where there isn’t much.

By the time we got to the Bad Art Gallery Opening Party that evening, we were thoroughly lubricated.  To make matters worse, the Bad Art Party had a beer sponsor, which meant we could drink all the delicious 21st amendment IPA’s for free.  Shortly after, is when the evening’s first art heist was perpetrated, by me, in front of 50+ somewhat horrified onlookers, at a party I had personally helped promote.

This is what a drunk person looks like stealing a painting.  Photo taken by co-conspirator and potential Broke-Ass Stuart intern Laina.

The first suggestion to steal the painting had come from Stuart’s girlfriend Kayla. “I’d be hilarious,” she said jokingly,”who would want to steal something that ugly?” In my inebriated state of mind I thought, “well…we’re here tohelp promOte the festival, let’s DO somefing hilarbious, and besides, who’zgonna miss a painting thAt awfuul?  We’ll give it back to’em, itzcool, shudup…”

So I conscripted a small band of thieves (two enthusiastic young cat burglars named Laina & Alex), and we clumsily set to removing the painting from the wall.  In the middle of the gallery and in full view of everyone, we threw a jean jacket over the painting and ran out of the party, across Valencia street, and through 2 lanes of traffic.  I may or may not have whisper/yelled, “We’re totally stealing this painting!” as we passed the bouncer on our way out.

It was possibly the least conspicuous art theft in history.

Casanova Lounge, Mission SF.  Now a popular den for art thieves.

Across the street at Casanova Lounge, we rejoined our friends with our stolen prize and began to drink to our success (there was more than one high-fives given, and several of them did not connect).  Little did we know that while we were drinking and laughing the night away, a second group of thieves were quietly plotting in the shadows. And at some point between 12:30am and 1:30am, our stolen painting, vanished without a trace.   We the thieves, had been robbed blind.  I jumped up and ran out of the bar and began accousting people on the sidewalk, yelling things like, “WHO are you!?” and “Whatyoudo with MY painting?” No one had seen a thing.

Now the Mission’s ugliest painting was really missing.  Which of course presented me with a real problem.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, at that gallery saw me steal that painting.

The next morning I woke up with a blistering headache and a general sense of loss. I realized I had stolen a painting in front of no less than 100 witnesses, and worse, I had no idea where that painting was, or who had stolen it from me.  Then…I got a text message from a number I didn’t recognize.

Someone sent me a picture of my stolen painting with a cryptic suggestion that sounded like something from a horror movie starring Jigsaw.  “Let’s play a game.”  Followed by “Wait for further instruction.”

Instantly I started to try and narrow down who these blackmailers could be, but unfortunately the list of suspects was long.  I had introduced myself to dozens of strangers at that gallery party, and handed out my business cards to different artists and industry types.  It could have been our comedian cohosts from Art Attack, any number of volunteers from Docfest, or simply a thief with terrible taste in art who had overheard us celebrating at Casanova.  To make matters worse I knew my own band of thieves were less than reputable, and certainly capable of double-crossing me.  So I feverishly wrote to the DocFest’s producer, Jeff, to apologize for the caper and to hopefully find out that he and his staff had stolen the painting back from us.

Unfortunately, Jeff appeared to have no idea who took the painting from me, and instead gave me a soft handed lecture on what a ‘shitty’ thing I had done, he then insinuated how disappointed in us everyone at the festival was.  Apparently, that painting had been promised to a volunteer, and she was quite upset.  It was then that I vowed to get the painting back, and also to never drink again.

Then the first set of instructions came in.

It was now clear I was being extorted by a particularly depraved class of blackmailers, in order to get the painting back, I was going to have to humiliate myself through some kind of career ending scavenger hunt.  They must have found an article I had written recently ridiculing e-scooters in San Francisco, so the first demand was for me to take a picture on an e-scooter, and then post it on social media.

After the first mission was completed, I figured I would make sure the painting was still safe, after all, I had seen my share of hostage movies.  I demanded that the extortionists send me proof that they still had the painting.

At first I refused the second mission, it was now Tuesday, June 5th, Election Day, so in between voting, we were busy trying to get our progressive voter guide in as many hands as possible.  I didn’t have time to find a ‘big girls dress’ and go all the way to the Marina to shoot a video for the pleasure of a couple criminals.  So I delayed.

On Wednesday morning I was at Stuart’s house working on our new ‘Awesome Guide & Map to San Francisco,’ when I discovered the foot painting hanging on his wall.  Stuart had forgotten to take it down before I came over.  That’s right, the scurrilous, depraved, art kidnapers were none other than Stuart and his nefarious girlfriend and pirate roommate, Kayla & Daniel (who had of course, through several overtures, convinced me of their innocence before I caught them red-handed).  They had suggested I steal the painting in the first place, then decided to not only to get me drunk and rob me, but then to blackmail me into humiliating myself around town.

Now that I’m looking at this picture of Dan Stuart and Kayla, I can’t believe I trusted them.  Can you?

In conclusion…

The foot art was finally returned to its rightful owner, Patricia of Radio Valencia, (I never had to wear drag in the Marina) and the SF Docfest continues until June 14th.  So go to the Roxie Theater this week and see some great films!

Broke-Ass is a proud sponsor of the 2018 Docfest, and will most likely never be invited back
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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

I'm the managing editor and co-owner of this little expiriment. I enjoy covering Bay Area News as well as writing about Arts, Culture & Nightlife.

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