As art, it was a flop.

But as spectacle, the Repo Show--a show of artworks stolen last year from galleries and homes around Seattle--was a success, despite the fact that its curators, a three-man group that operates under the name Fillistine, were nowhere to be seen.

At around 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 29, the now-defunct Aftermath Gallery, a tiny, one-room art space on 12th Avenue in Capitol Hill, opened its doors one final time to a throng of waiting artists and others drawn by the irrepressible buzz surrounding the illicit show.

What they found when they stepped inside was nothing much to look at. Literally: The only thing on the gallery walls--indeed, the only object of interest in the room, which was empty except for a large drop-leaf wooden table and a semicircle of folding chairs--was a handwritten list of artists whose work had been stolen. The art itself was stashed safely upstairs, at the end of a narrow staircase guarded by supernaturally calm gallery owner Diana Adams.

Upstairs, concealed behind a short balcony overlooking the gallery proper, were 17 pieces of art wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine. Each piece was labeled with an artist's name--or, more accurately, mislabeled. For example, Dylan Neuwirth's (unmistakably diamond-shaped) painting The Diamond was labeled "Flatchested Mama," an artist whose own stolen painting was labeled "Gold Prick," an allusion to Neuwirth's artist name, Gold Hick. (Priceless Works owner Ragan Peck, from whose gallery Neuwirth's and one other piece were stolen, left the show with Neuwirth's piece.) The mislabeled wrappers forced the artists to unwrap every piece of art, giving milling onlookers--who, at the night's high point, numbered nearly 50--an unplanned opportunity to actually view the art they had come to see.

By 8:30 p.m., about half the artists on Aftermath's list had shown up to reclaim their work. Many, like Tori Franklin, who was reclaiming a painting by Shannon Perry (who works under the name "Chicken"), were noticeably annoyed; "I don't want to give [Fillistine] any more press," Franklin said. About half an hour into the show, a pair of irate middle-aged women tore into the gallery, screaming at Adams that their work had been stolen and accusing her of complicity in a crime. "You are the scum of the scum!" one shrieked. Neither woman would give her name, and Adams said their work was not upstairs.

Meanwhile, one person whose name was not on the list--landscape artist John Berry, whose eight-foot-by-six-inch painting was stolen from the Center on Contemporary Art last year--showed up to reclaim his work, which was mislabeled "Chauncey Peck"--a misspelling of Chauney Peck, Ragan Peck's cousin. Brandishing the painting outside the gallery, Berry had two words for the group that put the show together: "Fascist fuckers." The painting was the second piece Fillistine had stolen from CoCA; the first, Presidential Removal System by Rich Lehl, reappeared in January after CoCA offered a reward for its return.

Asked how such a large and unwieldy painting had been stolen from CoCA, president John Gascon, who was on hand for the show, blamed the theft on an "architectural problem" that has since been corrected. "The painting was downstairs, and the offices were upstairs, and no one was there," Gascon said. "There are interns down there full-time now."

The evening's denouement came when gallery owner Peck called Seattle police, who showed up sometime after 8:30 p.m. Ironically, before Peck called in the cops, Adams made it clear that she had already talked to the police before the show, and they had assured her that they wouldn't "make a big deal" about the opening. A general sense of confusion (when I asked one officer whether this was the weirdest thing he'd ever seen, he replied without hesitation, "Yes. Absolutely") didn't keep officers from confiscating the handful of pieces that remained upstairs at the end of the night, including a small, oblong painting of a girl superimposed on a background of poppies; a chocolate bar, labeled "Art Bar"; and a square, framed image of a head in profile shouting the words "Weapons of Mass Destruction."

"It's going to be a lot harder for the rest of the artists to get it back," Adams sighed, shaking her head as police carried the paintings downstairs. On Monday, a police spokeswoman said that the art was being held as evidence, and would remain in police custody until the case made its way through the courts. Asked whether the art was better off in the hands of a gallery owner or police, Peck said only: "This is what I intended to happen."

barnett@thestranger.com

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