Winged heist

Any film lover or petty criminal will tell you that the best robberies are always an inside job. Whether it’s a crooked guard, a revenge-fueled ex-partner, or, in this case, something a little different, no heist is complete without a man on the inside.

Flashback to the warm fuzzy memory of 1989. Bob Geldof has solved world hunger, your childhood heroes have yet to become morally corrupt monsters, and a young Kurt Cobain is wondering if his life will ever really go anywhere special. It’s the perfect year for the Tate Gallery to show one of Joseph Beuys’ legendary felt suits.

In the same way bands often sell replica guitars from iconic gigs, the charismatic performance artist Joseph Beuys often sold replica felt suits from his iconic performances (although he, of course, claimed this was all part of his art). He was inspired to use felt for his suits after crash-landing as a WW2 pilot in Crimea, after which he claimed to have been nursed back to good health by a Tatar tribesman using animal fat and the aforementioned felt to seal his wounds. This story was unfortunately proven to be untrue. This is particularly upsetting as the fascinating Tatar people are heavily underrepresented in popular culture, but not entirely shocking for a man who’s most notable performance was a funeral for a mouse.

Anyway enough about all our heroes being liars, this is 1989, we don’t have time for all that, we’re all too busy looking forward to the unveiling of one of Joseph Beuys iconic felt suits. That is until the suit in question is brought out of storage by the Tate Gallery only to have been filled with about as many holes as Beuys’ Tatar Tribesman story. The criminals, in this case, cannot be held accountable for their crimes, they were just following their natural instincts. They were that most experienced, crafty, and all-around evil of all criminals: moths. Exactly how the moths arrived is unclear, their eggs may have been lying dormant in the suit since its arrival in the gallery, or, a single and very lucky moth may have found its way into the Tate’s conservation archives. Either way, the moths managed to steal the shoulders from one of the most valuable suits in history.

The moths' motivations for their vandalistic actions have been debated over the years. Did the moths have a particular hatred towards Beuys’ capitalist merchandising? Did they have a problem with modern art as a whole? Or were they just hungry? Canadian artist Jana Sterbak took responsibility for the incident in her work Absorption: Work in Progress, in which she claimed to have metamorphosed herself into the form of a moth and committed to a rage-filled quest to damage all of the 100 replica suits Beuys commissioned.

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