Someone Stole the Drug Users Union's Barry McGee-Painted Sign

The sign

Barry McGee
has achieved prominence. The South San Francisco native, educated at the San Francisco Art Institute and on the streets where he tagged and painted murals for most of the '90s, was the subject of a profile in The New Yorker last month (a touching piece that explored his relationship with his daughter and his former wife and collaborator Margaret Kilgallen, who died of cancer in 2001 shortly after the birth of their child).

McGee is also getting his street art — or what art of his that's left on the streets — stolen.

A simple green sign, advertising in stenciled text the location of the SF Drug Users' Union office on Turk Street in the Tenderloin, went missing a few weeks ago, union staffers tell SF Weekly.

The sign was a real McGee, staffers say, one of several McGee pieces in and around the small office space.

[jump] Attempts to reach the drug users' union executive director for comment were not successful. However, anyone can walk down Turk Street and see for themselves. Where once there was a sign, now there is no more sign.

The union hands out some of the 2.7 million hypodermic needles that nonprofits, outreach workers, and other harm-reduction specialists give to intravenous drug users in the city every year.

It appears to date from 2012, when McGee and other artists put in a temporary installation in the drug users' space for a fundraiser. Apparently, it went unmolested in all that time, without so much as a tag from a Sharpie before its disappearance.

Theft of this kind is nothing new for artists whose work is presented in public. Multiple murals and other installations painted by McGee have been painted over or gone missing, and there are numerous stories about the lengths to which collectors will go to save a piece by, say, Banksy.

But who would steal such a sign? A collector of street art, someone who thinks stencils are sexy? And where does such a secondary market live?

Professors and experts at the SF Art Institute, where McGee received a degree in the early 1990s, did not immediately return a call seeking comment from SF Weekly on Friday. although a quick eBay search did turn up a load of McGee-related work for sale.

SF Weekly tried to contact McGee through Instagram and the Ratio 3 Gallery, where he has a show coming up later this year. We'll update if we hear back. In the meantime, if you see the sign around, do say something. It's likely not where it's supposed to be.


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