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Lost Art 

A theft at Around the Coyote has fingers pointing in all directions.

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By Ben Joravsky

It's not exactly a bloody crime against humanity, but someone swiped a sculpture from Victoria Fuller's art studio during the Around the Coyote arts festival.

A month has passed since the sculpture was stolen, but she still hasn't stopped searching for it. She's posted flyers offering a reward for the piece (no questions asked) on trees and lampposts near her Wicker Park studio and has turned to police, artists, and reporters looking for help. If her pleas bring mainly stifled yawns of indifference, if the Coyote's own promoters think she's a royal pain in the neck, Fuller doesn't care. "I feel violated. I feel humiliated. I want my sculpture back."

The stolen sculpture--Rack'em, Stack'em--is a pool rack with 18 wooden eggs inside it and 3 on top. It's typical of the surrealistic art Fuller creates out of such recognizable objects as softballs, bowling pins, and hats.

"I made it back in 1992, and it's one of my favorite pieces in my personal collection," she says. "It's essentially a found object, but what's so complicated was pinning the eggs together so they wouldn't fall apart. It's taking something natural and putting it in a man-made construction. And it's humorous. Think about it: what if you racked up with eggs?"

While Fuller was developing her surrealistic style, the surrounding Wicker Park neighborhood was developing as an art community. The Coyote festival began seven years ago as an offbeat gallery walk; it's since expanded into a four-day extravaganza featuring hundreds of artists, rock groups, poetry readings, and plays. "We drew 80,000 people this year," says Mary Beth Cregier, president of the not-for-profit volunteer board that coordinates the exposition. "We broke through to the mainstream; the Tribune and Sun-Times wrote about us; even the Daily Herald came in from out of town to cover it."

Fuller paid the entrance fee to have her studio listed on the festival's official map of exhibitors. On Thursday, September 5, she opened her doors to the public. Rack'em, Stack'em was one of about 30 pieces on display. "I liked it so much, I didn't really want to let it go," she says. "But at the last minute, I decided it's a smaller item, it has a wide appeal, I probably could sell it. I was asking $450; a lot of times you offer things at a price that doesn't equal what you put into it. But it's important to sell what you can because that gets collectors interested in your work."

Hundreds of people filed through her studio, passing the pool rack piece that hung on the wall near the front door. On Saturday night at around seven o'clock it was stolen.

"I was in the back of the studio where I couldn't see the front door, and when I happened to walk by I noticed it was gone," she says. "There was a guy standing there, and I said, 'Oh my God, it's stolen.' He pointed at his ears--it turned out he was deaf. Another guy ran out into the street but couldn't see anything. Somebody said, 'Let's call the police'; he took out his mobile phone but couldn't get through. Someone brought in a cop off the street, and he made out a report. I called my insurance company, but they said, 'You have a $500 deductible, so you're not getting any money.'

"For a while I was just shocked. It never occurred to me that people would steal anything. Art doesn't have any street value. Maybe they figured it would look cool above their friend's pool table. Maybe they were just drunk. I kept racking my brain thinking of the people who had been through my studio, but I can't remember any bad-looking types, although there's really no way to tell a bad type."

She posted flyers, but nobody responded. She also called Cregier. "I wanted her to know. I wanted to spread the word so other people could watch out," says Fuller. "She said, 'I don't think it's necessary to tell people to watch out. Nothing's been stolen before.' I told her she might want to put a message in next year's guide so other artists would at least be on the lookout. She said, 'I don't think that's necessary.' I don't want to make her out to be wrong or anything--I understand she's trying to guard the Coyote's reputation--but I found her response a little unsatisfactory. Her response was to try and make me feel stupid. I do feel kind of dumb, but she could have been more sympathetic."

Most dealers or artists who hear Fuller's story say they feel sorry for her, and then quickly move on to tell their own tales of woe--like the time someone drove a forklift through a Picasso, or when an angry landlord made off with a whole collection because his deadbeat artist tenant hadn't paid his rent.

"I feel sorry for Vicki, but let's face it: when you open your home to strangers, you're susceptible and vulnerable and you have to watch out," says William Lieberman, director of the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery. "Did I tell you about the time I accidentally threw out a work with the garbage?"

Several River North dealers say such thefts are to be expected now that the Coyote's drawing philistines from the suburbs. "I heard a lot of people moaning about all the youngish couples from the suburbs who come in their black Gap outfits seething with attitude," says one gallery owner. "As the Coyote becomes more successful, you move away from the art lovers and aficionados and get closer to the kind of people who put gum under theater seats. In some ways [Fuller] can take it as a compliment. I mean, if the thief didn't like it, he wouldn't have stolen it."

As for Cregier, she says she's getting a little tired of hearing about the theft. "For one artist out of 800 in the festival, Vicki Fuller sure takes up a lot of my time," she says. "She must have called me ten times demanding to know what I could do about this theft. Well, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do. She says, 'Do you think we should put something in the newsletter warning other artists?' Well, what are we supposed to write: Watch things so they don't get stolen? I mean, duh."

Fuller says next year she'll probably pay someone to guard her door--if she participates in the festival. "I don't know if I'll do it next year," she says. "I opened my personal space to the public and they violated it."

Boxing Days

Three reporters showed up last week to watch David Diaz turn pro.

He predicts many more will be watching the day he wins the middleweight title.

Such are the dreams of wannabe champions like Diaz, a 20-year-old fighter from the northwest side. Until recently Diaz was battling palookas in the relative obscurity of the Hamlin Park field house. Then he made the Olympic team. In August he came within a few punches of winning the bronze medal. Now this.

For the occasion Diaz's lawyer, Jim Foley, booked a room at Sorrisos, a trendy River North restaurant. Diaz sits along the wall near the bar, wedged between four guys in suits: his lawyer, his agent, his promoter, and his trainer. Diaz is dressed in jeans and a Nike pullover.

They wait for a cameraman from a local Spanish-language station to set up. When the lights click on, the guys in the suits gush about Diaz's speed, his heart, his upbringing, and his marketability. "He'll be training with Pat Burns out of Gerrit's Leprechaun Gym in Miami, and his first fight will be on November 30 in Albuquerque, New Mexico--we'll have it televised on ESPN," says Bob Arum, the president of Top Rank, one of the more formidable promoters in the business. "He's a nice kid; he's got a future. About 82 percent of people who watch Spanish-language TV are Mexican-Americans. That's sufficient enough to support any promotion."

Diaz grew up in an apartment near Belmont and Sacramento, where his parents, Anselmo and Basilisa, still live. His father worked in a trophy-making factory; he went to Schurz High School; boxing's the only sport he's ever really loved. "I fought 175 amateur fights and won 160 of them," he says. "The hitting never bothered me, 'cause I always did the hitting. I was sad when I lost at the Olympics, but you have to accept your losses, you have to learn from them. To tell you the truth, I thought I won. But the judges didn't see it that way. He might have been a better amateur fighter, but I'll be the better pro."

Boxing's filled with the sad stories of hopeful young contenders who wind up batter-brained and broke, ripped off by sleazy promoters. Diaz swears it won't happen to him.

"I'm not gonna throw my money away," he says. "I'm not gonna run out and buy a car. A car's not a good investment. I'll take care of myself. I won't be one of those sad old guys you read about in the papers. I'll win the championship in two or three years and defend it for five years; then I'll come back home to Chicago and settle down."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Victorial Fuller photo by Cynthia Howe.

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