Concerning art, when is the medium more valuable than the message? In this case, the medium (bronze) seems to have gained much more value lately than the visions or messages of sculptors. For centuries, sculptors have used bronze as one of their preferred mediums for public and private statues and sculptures. But, the central ingredient in bronze is copper – which is a very valuable commodity now. Three years ago the price of copper was $1.50 per pound; now, the cost of copper has reached $4.00 per pound. This makes bronze statues and sculptures a very tempting target for thieves who sell the stolen copper for its scrap value. Once content with just stealing copper wiring, bronze manhole covers and copper pipes, today’s copper thief will steal works of art weighing hundreds of pounds and positioned in public spaces – sometimes in broad daylight.
The city of Brea, California in Orange County has encountered this new brazen type of theft in the worst way. Brea has experienced rapid growth in recent years which has lead to a proliferation of public art in their city. The city of Brea has 144 public sculptures in the city, 50 of which are bronze. Thieves have targeted Brea because of its large population of bronze sculptures and statues located in the city. After having several pieces of bronze art stolen by copper thieves, city officials are now having to come to grips with their new problem.
Artists, many of whom have had their own supplies of bronze stolen, are shying away from the use of bronze in the commission of their works. Public art buyers are seeking pieces that do not contain bronze so their clients won’t have to use extreme measures to protect their purchases. Some custodians of these public pieces of art have had to resort to protecting the sculptures with cacti barriers, shrub barriers, high-tech security systems, hidden cameras and various types of GPS devices.