The man, believed to be in his 60s, allegedly walked into the gallery on Friday morning, and lifted a 35cm solid bronze sculpture off a plinth near the exit. He then walked out before driving off in an old yellow VW Beetle.
It is feared the sculpture might have been sold to scrap metal dealers. Bambanani Dube, the security guard who was on duty when the incident occurred, said he had been at the Circa Gallery building across the street to drop something off when he noticed the vacant car parked in the street.
Dube said he spotted a “slender white man with a white beard” carrying the artwork at about 10.30am.
“I chased after him and asked him what he was doing with an unwrapped statue. He told me ‘the madam’ said he could take it. I asked ‘Which madam?’ because there’s no madam here. Everyone has a name.”
The man then jumped into his car as Dube attempted to open the driver’s door and retrieve the key, while the sculpture was on the passenger seat.
“I tried to open the door, but he reversed and then drove forward. He drove off onto Jan Smuts Avenue.”
The sculpture, Sphinx, was part of artist Deborah Bell’s Dreams of Immortality exhibition which had its opening night on Thursday last week, curator Monique Howes said.
“We had a lot of people here during the opening, and maybe the guy was here as well to scope out the place. Art theft happens all the time, but we have never had a theft like this here.”
Howes said although the gallery had CCTV cameras, none of them captured footage. She said the gallery would beef up its security.