Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Great Fine Art Fiasco...a Cautionary Tale to Compers!

As someone who regularly enters and sometimes wins competitions, I am used to receiving mystery parcels through the post.  Usually, the goodies inside come with a note from the sender congratulating you on your success, but occasionally nothing more than a mystery gift arrives on your doorstep.  9 out of 10 times the package's contents triggers a memory and you recall filling in the form or commenting on the blog in question, and you pat yourself on the back for being a clever clogs!

Rarely though, something completely anonomalous occurs.  Something unbelievable that shakes your trust in the entire foundations that provide the backbone to our hobby.  I know because it happened to me!

A knock on my door heralded the arrival of a huge parcel.  It was massive and heavy and encased in a plastic box.  My mind boggled trying to work out what would fit in this was kind of TV shaped, but didn't have the right packaging.  Thankfully, my husband was home. He armed himself with a knife and began hacking through the tape.  The plastic box covered a polystyrene box, which contained a thick polythene wrapped package.  It was like some sort of crazy grown-up pass the parcel, as we pulled aside layers to reveal the hidden prize.

At the very heart of the parcel was a picture.  It looked like a child's drawing of a house containing a black scribble, framed in a big, thick wooden boxframe.  I looked at it with puzzled eyes.  I've never entered any competitions to win any artwork, let alone weird absract artwork on a giant canvas, wrapped up like it was the crown jewels!  We sat wondering how my name and address could have been known by the sender.  I'm always filling in forms online or in person, but surely I'd remember trying to win that!  I don't follow art blogs and don't move in the circles where fine art would be considered as a prize for filling out your name and address on an entry form!

Ian looked closer and saw the artist's name was Antony Gormley.  I googled.  He was the artist behind the Angel of the North.  A little further delving and we discovered the picture that stood propped up against Fred's highchair was in fact The Firmament.  One of only 60 in the world and priced at £1245 + VAT.  At this point, I felt even more confused, panicky and in total shock.  An important piece of artwork would never be proferred as a prize.  This is when alarm bells started ringing.  The Conspiracy Theorist in me starting concopting elaborate ideas involving art smuggling and fencing stolen masterpieces via innocent compers who spread their details far and wide on the internet.

We didn't know what to do for the best.  We had signed for this unsolicited item unwittingly.  We were liable.  We rewrapped it and stashed it away, scared to death in case Freddy hit it with one of his projectiles!  We sat back and waited for some repurcussion.

Two days passed.  No Mafia gangsters appeared, no further works of art appeared on our doorstep.  I continued to wrack my brains and fervently google looking for clues as to why I had over a grand's worth of art gallery sat in my dining room.  Then, the next evening there was a knock on my door.  A man told me he'd come to collect a parcel.  My immediate thought was that a deliveryman had popped a card through a neighbour's door saying they'd left a parcel from Next at my house.  As a stay at home mum, I often take in deliveries for our cul-de-sac for those that go out to work during the day.  So I apologised to the man saying I hadn't taken anything in for anyone.  He went away.  Minutes later he returned saying that he'd spoken to his boss and I had something for him to collect.  It was at that point that a shiver ran down my spine as I connected this man to our mystery work of art.  I got on the phone to Ian who told me not to let anything leave our house without an explanation.  We had signed for the piece, our name and address was linked to it.  Thankfully Ian was nearly home and I told the stranger on my doorstep that he'd have to deal with my husband as I knew nothing about it.  (Yes, I'm a coward!) I shut the door and hid out in the living room!

When Ian arrived home, it became clear that the man who had been sent to retrieve the picture had no idea about what was going on.  Several phone calls followed with Ian looking for some explanation and some proof that we were not embroiled in some scam, with us as unwitting patsies!  Eventually, he untangled the truth. 

An art dealer had ordered the rare artwork from a gallery in London at the same time as I won a prize through a PR company, also in London.  The art dealer lived up North, I'm in the Midlands so our parcels took similar journeys to a courier company  that serves these areas.  On arrival, that company attaches their own address labels to the packages before loading them onto the vans.  Only, in this instance, my name sticker ended up on the artwork and the art dealer's name sticker ended up on my prize. 

How this can be allowed to happen?  Surely there are failsafes in place to stop this sort of thing from occurring...but apparently there aren't! It happens, they told us! I can only imagine the look on the art dealer's face after parting with his £1245 + VAT only to receive my little prize instead!  I'm sure heads have rolled over this.  I was so stressed having the Gormley in my house, wondering how and why it came to be there.  Wondering who was using my name and address, not knowing whether it was a genuine mistake or at the heart of a more sinister activity that I had been sucked into.

Today, my parcel (something I won for my husband for Christmas, so I won't tell you what it is!!) arrived to me, its rightful owner and the Firmament went to an art lover from up North.  Everything back where it should have been.  But it still beggars belief how this was allowed to happen, in a time where we have computers, parcel tracking and bar coded delivery labels.  It makes me wonder how many other parcels go astray or get sent to the wrong addresses.  We've all had prizes go AWOL.  I never received my Asda Mountain of Mugs that I won back in September.  I've stopped chasing them.  Is there someone, somewhere sipping tea out of a mug printed with my children's faces??  My mum received notification that she had won a was never delivered to her.  Did someone else enjoy her prize?  It does make you wonder. 

This experience has opened my eyes to a situation that I wouldn't have thought possible.  It's like something out of a Carry On film.  What other things go on, that we don't know about!!!  I guess we'll never know...unless it happens to us.  So Compers beware....keep your eyes on your prizes, you don't know where they might end up!!


  1. I enjoyed being part of the Great Fine
    Art Fiasco. I must admit that I have imagined the look on the art collectors face as he opened his parcel to discover instead of expensive art he had received the prize winnings of a Midlands comper. It all turned out right in the end. Love you wife.XXX

  2. I would have denied all knowledge!! No you know I couldn't have done that but how exciting and yet scary at the same time - would have been nice to win the Gormley though eh x



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