KPCC report on LARiver mural desecration

(Above photo by Mark Mauer for LAWeekly; more photos here.)

KPCC report: Mural Artists Upset Over Removal of Paintings

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez
November 02, 2007

About a month ago, the Friends of the Los Angeles River received permits to hold a two-day mural painting event where the river meets the Arroyo Seco. The purpose was to beautify hundreds of feet of drab concrete banks. But the project’s turned sour. Event organizers say an L.A. County supervisor called a meeting afterward to criticize the murals’ content and demand their removal. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez has the story.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The September 28th event attracted about 200 artists from L.A., San Diego, and the Bay Area. Each one used spray paint to create graffiti-style murals on 12-foot sections of concrete.

The day’s sponsors knew that many of these artists had painted on other walls without permission. That’s beside the point, they said, because they intended this event to help residents reconsider the concrete walls as a social sculpture instead of a flood control channel.

Alex Poli – he goes by the name Man One – is a longtime graffiti artist, gallery owner, and organizer of the mural event. From a bridge overlooking the Arroyo Seco, he described a mural created with red, yellow and navy blue spray paint.

Man One: It’s a beautiful piece by Mear. Mear is, like, one of L.A.’s best known graffiti artists. The piece actually says “cultivate love.” And it had an image of a woman painting a flower in the ground.

Guzman-Lopez: “Had,” Man One said, because a couple of weeks ago someone painted over part of Mear’s mural and many others with large swaths of gray paint. Such large swaths, he said, that he believes a municipal graffiti removal crew did the job.

Man One suspects L.A. County officials are responsible, even though the permit to paint in the channel came from the county’s department of public works.

His suspicions arise from an early October meeting called by L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina. The supervisor was furious, Man One said, and she loudly demanded that Friends of the L.A. River paint over the murals because some contained what she called sexist images and others ridiculed police. Man One and another person at the meeting said Molina added that the permitted murals would generate illegal graffiti and violence among competing taggers.

Man One: She views all graffiti art as graffiti, as vandalism. And that was evident. She didn’t care about, she didn’t care about a mural that said “Cultivate Love,” she didn’t care about a mural that was talking about the creatures of the river; to her it’s all the same.

Guzman-Lopez: At least one mural visible to pedestrians depicts a woman in tight fitting clothes. Man One said none of the works depicted police in a negative light. A spokeswoman for Gloria Molina said the supervisor didn’t order the murals painted over. That was all the comment her office would offer.

L.A. City councilman Ed Reyes denied that city crews painted over the murals. He lent his support when organizers proposed the mural project. Upon further questioning Reyes conceded he shares Molina’s view about the downside of legal graffiti.

Ed Reyes: What was permitted, was permitted, that was a fact. But what tended to happen was you had a whole other by-product of other type of graffiti that came along with it.

Guzman-Lopez: The debate’s far from over. Friends of the L.A. River and Man One plan to stage a similar but much larger mural event a year from now. For the time being, Man One is focusing his attention on a future commission. The City of Pasadena, he said, wants him to craft a graffiti mural for one of its administration buildings.

2 responses to “KPCC report on LARiver mural desecration

  1. Look at this LA Weekly article:

    Gloria Molina Orders Meeting of Styles Mural Whitewashed

    And plans to bill FoLAR for removal of art
    Friday, December 21, 2007 – 5:38 pm
    Part of the mural in progress.
    Apparently nostalgic for the days when the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River was merely a barren, concrete wasteland, Los Angeles Country Supervisor Gloria Molina introduced an emergency measure to the County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that would force Friends of the Los Angeles River to whitewash the remains of the mural from the renowned international graffiti festival Meeting of Styles from the flood walls. The motion was quickly seconded by Supervisor Don Knabe, who called the mural “outrageous,” and was then carried without further discussion or public debate.

    Held in Los Angeles for the first time since 2004, after stops in Brazil and Bulgaria, among other places, Meeting of Styles was a collaboration of FoLAR, Crewest Gallery and over 100 graffiti artists from around the world and drew thousands of people to the otherwise blighted area of Highland Park to watch the creation of the giant mural. County records indicate that organizers secured all necessary permits for the mural, and that the event, which was covered by the Weekly, was fully licensed by the County.

    A few weeks later, the mural made headlines when a large chunk of the art was mysteriously whitewashed from the north wall of the Arroyo Seco channel after Molina publicly expressed outrage over its content. Molina’s office denies they were involved in the whitewashing.

    On October 18th Molina and several members of her staff met with Friends of the Los Angeles River and, according to FoLAR founder Lewis MacAdams, expressed outrage that some additional, unauthorized graffiti had popped up in the area. Still, news of the emergency measure came as a complete shock to FoLAR members, who were under the impression they had come to an understanding with Molina’s people. “We reached an agreement with Gerry Herzberg (Molina’s Policy and Political Director) that we would remove additional graffiti that had sprung up around the mural one time,” says MacAdams. “Then, suddenly, they wanted us to remove it in perpetuity. Now, without even putting it on the agenda, so we could show up to defend ourselves and generate some public debate, they expect us to get rid of the mural itself. It’s insane.”

    After the whitewash
    Molina spokeswoman Roxane Marquez calls the mural a “public nuisance and a potential safety hazard,” citing the death of two constituents in graffiti related violence earlier in the year. She justifies Molina’s decision to introduce the mural’s removal as an emergency measure by saying the county is “trying to save lives” — a notion that infuriates Meeting of Styles curator and renowned Los Angeles graffiti artist Man One.

    “This isn’t gang graffiti – people marking off their neighborhood or their territory,” he says. “This is art. We just happen to use spray-cans. But they’re trying instill fear in people to get their way. This was a great, positive event that brought out thousands of artists and neighborhood people to one of the ugliest, most neglected areas of the city, and now they’re trying to turn it into something else.”

    “When you have a permit to create a mural, and then you have to remove it because someone in power doesn’t like it, without any dialogue, that’s censorship. That’s a dictatorship.”

    FoLAR now has 90 days to remove the mural or be forced to foot the bill when the Department of Public Works does it for them. No further public hearings are scheduled on the matter.

  2. California has a statute on the books against the destruction of artwork, which is apparently being violated here. There’s a difference between illegal graffiti, which is not recognized as art, and a sponsored and officially sanctioned project like this, despite any similarity in style. These artists played by the rules, got a permit, and used their own materials at the invitation of the people in charge. To me, that qualifies it as art, despite some Supervisors’ objections to its content. I’m sure there are art curators and gallerists that would agree – one of the top-selling artists of our time, a fellow named Banksy, works in a similar genre.

    If the DPW does vandalize it with whitewash, they might find themselves forced to compensate the artists involved, rather than getting paid for their act of destruction. FoLaR and Styles should find a good attorney, experienced in art law, to represent them in this matter.

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