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Thieves Target Cryptic Road Signs Installed For Summer Streets

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Some bizarre signs have been posted on lamp posts around New York City -- but just as quickly as they were put up, someone stole most of them.

As CBS 2's Alice Gainer reported, the signs were created by artist Ryan McGinness. All of them use the same red, black and white as traditional road signs, but all of them feature cryptic images that leave passersby scratching their heads.

They were installed by the city Department of Transportation as a public art project for the Summer Streets festival.

Pedestrians in Downtown Manhattan on Friday found each sign more puzzling than the last. One of them features a red hand appearing to feed a creature with human legs and a fish head, which in turn is clutching a fishing pole with a fish on it.

"Don't feed the fish mutant," one man suggested.

The descriptions are equally cryptic.

The artist said the sign actually means, "The hand of a god rewards the fish who fishes fish for himself."

Another sign is described as: "The umbrella needs an umbrella above the breast tree atop the ziggurat crowning the crest of crap. The door is open allowing anyone in."

Another still is described as: "The flowering horned skull atop the two-headed turtle with forked tongues sits upon the Masonic all-seeing eye. Bi-unicorns are underground and ooze love."

But someone apparently does understand the signs, because 40 of the 50 that were put up have been stolen.

"It is a bit disconcerting that people are taking public art," said Jacob Lewis, director of Pace Prints, who represents McGinness' art.

But while Lewis said it is a shame the signs have been taken, "there's no bad press – we'll put it that way. It's great that he has interest and that people have such interest, but it is a sense of concern that we're seeing a lack of respect for his work."

The artist commands thousands of dollars for his works, so some say that could be the reason.

"People steal them because they think they're going to be worth something. Look what happened with that Banksy," one man said.

The signs were installed in late July, and the DOT is working with the NYPD to resolve the issue.

The DOT said so far, it has replaced 12 of the 40 signs taken, and changed the installation method -- allowing for more passersby to take a stab at the meaning behind them.

If you're up for the challenge, the signs will be up until the end of the month.

CBS 2 is a media partner for Summer Streets.

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