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Barry McGee Sign in Tenderloin Stolen 

Wednesday, Aug 26 2015

The sign advertising the SF Drug Users' Union office on Turk Street didn't look like much: white letters stenciled onto green wood. That may be why the sign, painted by acclaimed artist Barry McGee, survived outside for three years before going missing sometime in late July.

McGee, a South City native and San Francisco Art Institute alum, used the city's streets as a canvas for years, spray painting tags and outlaw murals similar to the work he later displayed at the Venice Biennale. His fame is at a high; he and his family were the subject of a recent New Yorker profile; magazine covers and free newspapers bearing his work sell at steep premiums on eBay. It was only a matter of time before someone — a fan; a "collector"; a kid who thought a sign saying "SF DRUG USERS" was cool — figured out that an in-demand artist had work in the public space ripe for the taking.

The sign hasn't appeared for sale online or anywhere else that Holly Cambodia, the union's executive director, has looked. (Assuming the authorities would be no help, the union didn't report the theft to police.) She says staff have no idea who took the sign, which McGee painted as part of a 2012 fundraiser to support the union's mission of offering peer counseling and a needle exchange.

Two other McGees at the office — one painted on the wall on the way to the bathroom — will be removed and stored for safekeeping, Cambodia said. As for a new sign, local artist Pete Doolittle is currently working on a replacement. If it goes missing, maybe Venice is next for Doolittle, too.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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