Priceless Blue Tarp Stolen, Reward Offered

April 1, 2018

By Lucky LaJob

A blue tarp, one of only three tarps designed by legendary pop-art figure Jasper Johns, has been stolen.

The tarp was on display on the southern exterior wall of the former Refuge Smoothie Café at 422 E. Lincoln Ave. A reward of $500,000 has been offered for its return by the building’s owner.

Johns, better known for his iconic images of flags, had a brief flirtation with tools and tool-adjacent equipment, now known as his “Handyman Period.” In addition to the tarps, two blue and one bright orange, Johns also designed several rakes, a hammer, and single drywall screw.

The screw sold at auction in 2016 for $1.2 million.

Marcelle Polednik, PhD, the Donna and Donald Baumgartner Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, told the Compost that the blue tarp, officially titled “Tarpaulin
#2,” is likely priceless.

“There’s only one other one like it in the world,” Polednik said, “and that’s on display right now in Vienna and drawing huge crowds.”

Johns’ orange tarp is in the garage of a private collector and has never been displayed, Polednik added.

The tarp, like most precious works of art on display, was protected by a variety of security measures, including motion-sensing lasers, security cameras, and “Art-Guard,” a pressure-sensitive pad set to emit an alarm when a piece of art is moved.

The thief who took “Tarpaulin #2” must have been very sophisticated to have avoided all of those traps, according to Ald. Tony Zielinski. The Bay View alderman has championed public art in his district for many years.

Anyone who knows the whereabouts of a blue tarp is encouraged to call the Milwaukee Police Department.


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