Contemporary artist Nicole Wassall conducted a social experiment at the recent private view of her new exhibition, Precious Mettle, to see if visitors might be tempted to steal her art. She positioned a camera above her leading piece, Thank You, which is a pile of polished two pence coins with 'EQUAL PAY 4 WOMEN' stamped across the two sides of each coin. All invitees were known to Wassall and or the gallery and she wondered if any might be tempted to pilfer a coin from the pile. She rolled back the footage together with the gallery directors and - lo and behold, a man secretly (or not so secretly) stole a coin, and then minutes later returned to take a second coin.
There is almost laughable irony in a man stealing from a female artist who is making a statement about the gender pay-gap. Wassall claimed she “predicted if anyone stole a coin, it would be a man... I said that to a friend and my sister before the exhibition - they didn’t believe anything would be taken!”
For the artist “It is less about one man and more about what he stands for. There is a sense of entitlement prevalent in a whole generation. In a way I’m thankful, I have proof it happened - he has helped demonstrate that we have a long way to go...”
The second part of Wassall’s piece is a singular coin in a small purple pouch with ‘Thank you’ written on green card inside, purple and green being the campaign colours of the Suffragette movement. The third part is a print, showing the detail of a 1971 two pence coin. This was the year, after the 1970
Equal Pay Act, that the ‘new’ decimal currency was introduced. It was also the year when Queen Elizabeth II’s allowance was more than doubled, from £475,000 to £980,000.
Wassall was inspired by the one penny coins which appeared circa 1912 with a crudely stamped ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN’ across King Edward VII’s head. Little is known about these coins, but they were regarded as part of Suffragette action, targeting the patriarchy. Since the incident, Wassall emphatically stated “I want this piece to honour the Suffragettes!”