404 Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Published on October 16th, 2017 | by Ido Kenan

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🌻 Museum Patrons Steal, Then Anonymously Mail-In, Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s famous work, Sunflower Seeds, on display from January till the end of October at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, is comprised of hundreds of millions – possibly several billions – of hand-made porcelain sunflower seeds, minus a few handfuls. Apparently, some of the museum’s patrons stole a few as seedy souvenirs. Fortunately, a bunch of them had had a change of heart and returned the inedible goods.

Guilt-ridden Israel Museum patrons anonymously mail-in Ai Weiwei’s porcelain sunflower seeds they’ve stolen from ArtNews

Ai Weiwei's Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern. Image: Ismoon (cc-by-sa)

On August 11th, the museum tweeted a photo of two envelopes it received via snail-mail from thieving patrons, which included the pilfered seeds:

This week we were surprised to find in our mailbox envelopes containing seeds from patrons who got overexcited at “Sunflower Seeds” at the Ai Weiei exhibit…

Glad that they regretted it and returned

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Less than a month later the museum, using only the flabbergasted 😳 emoji, reported another seed-filled mail, whose note read,

On August 8th my family and I visited the mu[se]um, we were at the Ai Weiwei seeds.

I took 2 of the seeds that were available for touching.

The minute I took the seeds I actually stole an artwork people put their souls into. When I took the seeds I perceived it as ‘all of’ 2 seeds but for me to even be able to see those two seeds people worked like ‘asses’. I deeply regret the damage I’ve caused.

I’m not signing my name I’m so ashamed of my deed. And I hereby pledge that this deed will not repeat itself.

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Another week, another seeder, wrote the museum:

Another one arrived. Wholeheartedly recommend [well known Israeli nuts and seeds chain] Gar’iney Afula, tastier than porcelain and guilt free.

The accompanying note read: “Sorry and thanks for the exhibit”.

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

One month later, yesterday, the museum posted photos of several additional seed-laden envelopes with notes containing apologies or apologetics. One patron explained:

I took from the box at the ehibit and immediately regretted it…

I’d appreciate it if you return the attched to its place.

Sorry, have a good year and Gmar Chatimah Tova [a Yom Kippur greeting meaning ‘May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good’]

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Another patron claimed it wasn’t theft but rather a loan, albeit an unsanctioned one, a fact he doesn’t acknowledge in his letter, nor the fact that he did not take a single “seed” but seeds:

Hello, Israel Museum.

Thanks a lot for lending the seed.

I was glad to tell the whole family about the art and show them the seed.

Happy new [Jewish] year and happy holidays

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

One of the letters, which seems to have been written by a young kid, read (all spelling and syntax sic):

Hi Israel Museum I’m sorry I took one of your sunflower seeds (Ai Weiwei).

I am so ashamed of myself that I dared one of the seeds.

If you’re wondering why I took it so here’s an answer: I really like collecting things that look cool to me and in this case I really liked the sunflower seeds.

The seed is placed inside an absorbent [paper] towel and over it is a layer of paper that envelopes it it even says ‘the sunflower seedw (I took only 1).

Anyway I’m really sorry that I took 1 of your and Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seed. 😢

I ask that you don’t write my name and this will not happen again!.

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

Another thief simply wrote “Sorry”.

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

“Although we’re past the [1st Jewish month of Tishrey] holidays, but just so you know we forgive you”, tweeted the museum, echoing one of those holidays, Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, in which it is customary to repent and apologize for one’s bad deeds. The museum signed-off with “Have a great and honest year”.

Today another letter was tweeted, hashtagged in Hebrew #The_Daily_Letter:

We’re sorry we took the seed samples from Oy [sic] Weiwei’s creation/

Returning in the letter the two seeds we took and [we] know that it’s an artwork many hours of effort, planning, creating an thought were put into.

We will not do this again.

We ask for forgiveness.

Ai Weiwei sunflower seeds returned by Israel Museum patrons. Image: IMJ

To decrease the unregulated harvest, the museum opted to order a stock of seeds to be sold at the souvenir shop.

Guilt-ridden Israel Museum patrons anonymously mail-in Ai Weiwei’s porcelain sunflower seeds they’ve stolen from ArtNews

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About the Author

Ido Kenan is founder of Room 404, a longtime Digital Culture journalist and a raiser of two cats



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