Friday, August 26, 2005

Tagged and Bagged, Part II

OK, so this is an example of exactly why I was so hesitant about condemning graffiti art: doing so in absolute terms leads to facist censorship bullshit like this:

Using a little-known ordinance that allows the city [Los Angeles] to regulate murals that abut public property — including sidewalks — officials have notified some property owners that they must either modify or remove their murals.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa began the pilot program to enforce the ordinance while he was still a councilman representing the Eastside. But the effort, which targets murals that lack city permits, has divided residents, reflecting a divergence in views about graffiti and art that is playing out in cities across the nation.

Though some consider the graffiti look a legitimate — even hip — form of art, others, including city leaders and police, remain convinced it is a symbol of blight and crime.


In Boyle Heights, inspectors arrived at Joe Escobedo's Rosemead Radiator Shop on Wabash Avenue a few weeks ago to tell him to remove the spray-painted mural he had commissioned for the west-facing brick wall of his business [see image above].

A tagger who called himself Keo had approached him about five years ago saying, " 'You got a nice wall there. Want a mural?' " Escobedo recalled.

"I told him, 'Do something nice, something I'm going to like,' " Escobedo said Wednesday, his face and work clothes a little oil-stained. "You've got to get close to figure it out, but it does have something to do with radiators."

The mural shows the name of the shop in bold graffiti-like letters next to a pair of cartoonish radiators. Keo received $300 for the job and periodically returns to touch up the mural when taggers or gang members vandalize it, Escobedo said.

But the city recently issued an order saying Escobedo must whitewash the wall and that a nonprofit art group would come to paint a new mural for him.

The inspector "said they considered [the mural] graffiti," Escobedo said. "That's graffiti right there," he said, pointing across the street to a white wall sliced by crude gang tagging.

Are you fucking kidding me? Government inspectors in Los Angeles are going to decide what's art and what's not? Who are these inspectors? What are their credentials for making such a determination?

Consider the ramifications here. Escobedo commissioned that piece. If Escobedo likes it and it's not violating any obscenity laws, who the hell is Villaraigosa to play art critic? Worse than that, though, who are these "nonprofit art group" artists? Do they take orders on what to paint from the mayor? What if Escobedo doesn't like what they paint? Can he insist they start over, and where does that leave the new artist with regards to creative control? This is an idiotic idea from beginning to end.

Here's more:
"For the last 15 years, the relationship between the store owner and the writer [muralist] has been there and there hasn't been a need for government articipation," said Montalvo, 35, also known as Nuke [see image above]. "What I'm afraid is they may want to suppress or oppress any content that in their eyes they think is inappropriate."

One of the murals the city has targeted for removal or modification was a spray-painted piece created by Montalvo in 2001. The mural, on a wall of the crumbling Mazatlan theater on Eastern Avenue in El Sereno, depicts Charlie Chaplin and Mexican comedic icon Cantinflas with the phrase "Comin' to da Barrio."

He said he painted it with the theater owner's permission and with help from female graffiti tagger Mellow.

Read the article. Some of the murals slated for whitewashing are by artists who spend a great deal of their own time and effort repairing the pieces. Methinks L.A.'s new Mayor needs a to spend a bit of time reading the Bill of Rights. I truly hope this goes to court and they slam his philistine ass for this.


Anonymous LA artist said...

Atlanta went through the same brouhaha a few years back. But this is the problem with LA - it wants to view itself as an art center (and on many levels it is) but it acts like a provincial backwater in so many ways. Like the local classical station always stating that the performances are "world class" - I mean really, that's a comment I expect from Eugene, Oregon or Kansas City not from LA.

8/26/2005 05:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Atlanta went through the same brouhaha a few years back.

Were there any lawsuits that you recall?

8/26/2005 05:25:00 PM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Portland had an ordinance prohibiting murals for a while--mainly in an attempt to stop giant ClearChannel ads from being painted on the sides of buildings.

Recently the city has established a process for getting approval (by the Public Art Advisory Committee) to put up a mural.

8/27/2005 03:31:00 AM  
Anonymous LA artist said...

Sorry, Edward, I don't have specifics. I happened to be in Atlanta and read the local papers but didn't follow up on the end of the story once I left.

8/27/2005 11:57:00 AM  

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