"The mural means a great deal to me"

Until very recently there was a 200-foot-long mural on my street. The painting depicted people enjoying our neighborhood's most notable geographical feature, Bernal Hill. You've been to Bernal Hill many times on this blog, and portions of the mural have appeared here as well. An example:

January 8 2005

Well, the mural is gone. Where there was once a large piece of public art, now there is a blank wall as far as the eye can see. This happened a week or two ago, without notice. I was shocked to find the mural suddenly gone.


This notice appeared sometime after the mural was painted over. I saw it for the first time today.


My first reaction? Please don't paint murals if you're a control freak. Find another outlet. Murals fade in the course of time. That can't be a surprise to anyone, least of all a muralist.

I appreciate the need to maintain public art. And the mural needed some repair for sure. But it was nowhere near blight. There are faded, cracked murals all over San Francisco. Are they blight? I don't think of them that way.

And what about this idea that an artist "should have the right to protect the integrity of his/her work". I don't know anything about the legal status of the mural or the artist's right to possess it. This wasn't a copyright issue. Morally speaking, when you give something, don't you give up some interest in it? Does art deserve an exception? All art? I'm not even addressing whether "should have" and "does have" are equivalent.

This is all very recent and I haven't thought about it much. But right now I want to say thank you but no thank you to future art from this artist. Please don't make gifts to the community that you might decide to take back one day when you deem it necessary. Or at least give notice in the mural that it only exists at the artist's discretion. Then maybe I won't grow so attached next time.

I am very interested in your comments on this issue. If you have any, please weigh in.


Peter said...

What a strange story. San Francisco and Public Art have always had a rocky relationship, just usually not in this way.

Rob said...

Hey. I live in Chicago and I'm a big fan of Jeff Zimmerman. His murals are like little treasures hidden about town. I had the occasion to hear him speak at DePaul University, and I was pleased to hear him say that he thinks of the murals not only as gifts to the community, but as "citizens" of the community. Once he's finished with the mural it's no longer his, and whatever happens to the mural is not really within his control. Some of them have been demolished or "hidden" by recent construction, and he is okay with that.

Not everyone will share the same attitudes, and it is up to the artist to decide how a work will be presented, but I do agree with you. If a work is public it is a "gift" to the community, and to take it back seems a bit childish.

Here are a few final words of humility from an artist whom I've come to respect greatly:

"The meaning of these murals is only as deep as the public wants it to be." Jeff Zimmerman

lisa said...

What Rob said :)

rainymountain said...

It does seem a rather extreme reaction from the artist, it's not as if it had graffitti on the mural or something that really destroyed the image and made it no longer 'readable'. I certainly think that the artist underestimated the attachment of the community to the mural, I imagine that there are a lot of people in the neighbourhood who will miss it and find that blank wall a rather disturbing and boring sight. People understand that outside art deteriorates inevitably, and that that does not reflect on the artist's stature nor the power of the image. Too bad that it is gone so soon.

Kaveh Maguire said...

Back before I became a horticulturist I was briefly an art major. I decided to drop out of art school when I realized that I didn't have the passion that other artist have. This also translated into me not thinking I was nearly as crazy as the other artists I was going to school with. Artists do things that normal people don't understand and some of them are very possessive about their art and take it a little too seriously.

Unknown said...

Okay, what a selfish little jerk. Sorry, that's child-like of me- but he basically didn't get his way so now he threw a tantrum? The worst part is the "But- I have a book coming out....". Does he honestly think folks will want to hear anything else he has to say at this point? Do we paint over egyptian artifacts because they are worn out or chipped? No, we stick them in museums, we preserve them, they are part of history. That mural, even in a tattered state, could have been his legacy. Once the mural was done though, it no longer belonged to him. He had no right to do that.

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

It does seem kind of strange. I've never heard of anything like this before where the artist paints over the mural. Usually when murals have been painted over around here it's because of graffiti. The part about the book at the end almost makes it sound like this was his way to get publicity for the book.

Anonymous said...

If you give a 'gift' to the communicty you shouldn't take it away. Do we paint over other works of art because they are degrading (never! we try to keep them in the best condition, but understand that there will be degradation). This artist (and I use the term loosely) seems selfish to me . . .

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

How very odd! I looked at the artist's web site, and see that he's been working in mosaics of late. Maybe issues of permanence are very important to this artist.

It's a pity, his choice to eradicate this mural, because it was clearly a lovely painting that many people must have enjoyed.

Here's a link to his site, with some photos, for those curious.