A local art piece worth $1,600 was reported stolen last week from the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, prompting an FBI probe into the theft.
On April 11, a Penn security officer called local artist Tim Barton to ask if he removed his piece, titled "34 Years in the Making," from the building, which is located at 3400 Civic Center Blvd. After Barton replied that he did not remove the artwork, the security officer told him that security cameras in the building caught an unidentified male suspect taking the piece off the wall, exiting the building, and stepping onto a SEPTA Regional Rail line at the University City stop. The FBI is also investigating the theft, Barton said.
The suspect was wearing black clothing and had a mustache and goatee, Barton said. He wore a black shirt, a black pair of pants, black shoes with white soles, and a black backpack with white lettering.
Barton filed a police report with Penn Police later on April 11. According to the report, the artwork was discovered missing on April 4 at 1:12 p.m., a week before Barton was notified.
The artwork is composed of license plates Barton collected over 34 years from places he lived throughout his life. The piece also took him about 100 hours to complete and was being displayed as part of an event called Celebration of Art and Life at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine since September 2018.
The FBI has an Art Crime Team composed of 16 special agents, according to the FBI's website. Each of the agents are responsible for addressing art and cultural property crime cases in an assigned geographic region.
The Eastern District of Pennsylvania FBI said they would not provide further details because it is an ongoing investigation. Penn's Division of Public Safety also said they would not comment on the pending investigation.
“DPS can confirm the art piece was reported missing," DPS wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. "As this is an ongoing investigation unfortunately we cannot provide any further details at this time.”
Barton said he gave the police a list of six people who asked him about purchasing the piece since September 2018. Barton said all of the buyers declined at the time because the art piece was out of their budget range.
"34 Years in the Making" cannot be replicated, Barton said, given that he collected the license plates in a shoebox since the age of 19 and throughout his 20-year service moving around the country as a United States Navy officer.
"God, just bring it back, that’s all I care about. I don’t want it to end up in a dumpster," Barton said. "I don’t care if it ends up in somebody’s house and it’s there forever and I can’t figure it out, that’s fine. But I just don’t want it to end up in a dumpster, that’s all.”