"Honesty" sculpture built from dollar bills is stolen

One art patron did not get the message of John Ilg's "Honesty."

One art patron did not get the message of John Ilg's "Honesty."

Artist John Ilg built his sculpture "Honesty" as a kind of test of viewer willpower. And the piece -- a mesh wire frame with the word "HONESTY" spelled out in 316 loose dollar bills -- enjoyed several showings without a single dollar going missing.

"I was feeling all warm and cozy," he says, now sardonic.

That all came to a screeching halt this week at a Bloomington gallery.


When Ilg first built the piece for the 2008 Minnesota State Fair, he assumed the bills would be pilfered and actually declined the Fair's offer to place it behind glass or hang it out of reach.

"It sets temptation right out in front of them," he says. "My assumption was every single bill would have been stolen out of that thing."

But after hundreds of thousands of guests passed by, the piece was returned to him stuffed with $150 worth of additional bills. Not a single one of his original $316 was out of place:


His spirit warmed and, in total, $650 richer after winning first prize from head judge and Walker Art Center Director Olga Viso, Ilg went on to exhibit the piece twice more without incident.

His most recent show at Normandale Community College in Bloomington was just about to close when some feckless art patron boosted the entire piece off the wall on Tuesday night. A student alerted campus security that nothing but a few sad bills remained on the floor below where the piece had hung. Security found a trail of muddy bootprints and bills toward the exit, but no witnesses. Though security cameras were positioned throughout the gallery, they weren't working the night of the robbery.

While stealing a piece called "Honesty" may make for some kind of artistic statement, Dean of Humanities Jeff Judge says that was not the idea.

"We certainly wouldn't have put it up if we thought someone would have stolen it," he says.

Bloomington police are investigating, but Ilg has low expectations. He places his last hope of catching the thief in you, the people:

"Fair merchants and barkeeps of the metro area, if someone is trying to pass exceedingly curly $1's, this person is a cad and a bounder as well as dis-honest and certainly NOT a gentleman," he wrote in a follow-up email.